Round Robin Character Naming

Rhobin’s question this month comes in two parts. How do you select your characters’ names? Are there any you avoid?

As I set my writing mostly in the UK, I try to find regional names. This is relatively easy for surnames.

I was once told a story by a professional colleague. He was living in London for work, but when he went home to the north east and tried to book a table in a restaurant, he was thrilled to be told by the waiter: “I’m sorry, sir, Gunn isn’t enough, I’ll need a first name.” He went on to say that was when he knew he was home.

Geographical names can break both ways. It may mean a character is local born and bred or it may identify one as having come into the area from elsewhere. Both results are useful.

First names are a whole other ball game. How often does a writer find themselves with a stuck letter? Every first name you think of starts with a V or an E or a T. That is a major irritation and I can spend quite a bit of time scratching my head till I move away from that dominating letter and achieve a variety.

Writing historical fiction also provides challenges. There weren’t that many first names in regular use. In real life and times of, for example, the Tudors, many men were called William or Thomas (Will or Tom). So, in a way, if you do name each character with an individual name, you’re missing out on historical accuracy. On the other hand, it helps the reader.

In my own family, many of the women were called Janet or Jessie. There’s one man in the family tree who married three times and two of his wives were called Janet. James and John pop up, too, and Joan and Agnes. Elizabeth or its derivatives, Liz, Lizzie, Liza, Bunty, Betty, Bet have had a strong influence in twentieth century choices.

I would usually seek out an appropriate first name and, where regional variation exists, eg Bet in the north of England, Bunty in central Scotland, go for that. However, in my historical fiction I’ve tended to seek out or make up suitably aged names. Mariah semed to me to be both elegant and old. Bella was chosen as a diminutive of Isabella and less formal because my heroine had flaming red hair and was a little headstrong. The Scottish Regency I’m working on at the moment has a heroine who simply refused to be Louise and is now Louisa. Three cheers for Find & Replace. I think she’s the first of my characters who’s done this.

Are there any I avoid?

Apart from Judith, I avoid Shakespearian names like Cordelia or Goneril. I avoid using place names for people. I’m careful over Biblical names – have they come into general use like Josh, Mary, Elizabeth or would they be geographically correct? If not, is there a reason a person with that name has moved. In today’s global village society, there may well be.

I have no characters with a double first name like Marie-Claire. That’s simply personal preference and if I wrote a book with a French main or major character, I might well opt for a double first name. Some of them are both pretty and romantic.

How do others approach this? why not visit the blogs below?


Skye Taylor

Diane Bator

Anne Stenhouse

Victoria Chatham

Beverley Bateman

Helena Fairfax

Dr. Bob Rich

Marci Baun

Judith Copek

Connie Vines

Fiona McGier

Rhobin L Courtright


Diary of a Writer – Coping Mechanisms 5

Embarking on a new Season at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in online format with Angela by Mark Ravenhill and starring Pam Ferris in the title role, held out promise for things to come later in the year.

The theatre had organised a virtual bar and we were able to sit at home and chat with other theatre goers. We met a nice lady from Balerno we hadn’t met before and also Mairi Rosko, the theatre’s Development Director. Not the same as being in the actual bar – but hey, it helps.

Excellent walk in the arctic temp today with a longtime friend. Visited Warriston cemetery where I hadn’t been previously and bumped into (yes, really) two young friends on the way back. Non-guided tour of the tram works as we attempted to follow the Diversion signs. Goodness, there is a lot of the Eastern New Town.

I’m busy working up my talk on writing drama for Edinburgh Writers’ Club ( Monday 26th April at 7.30 – tickets from Eventbrite).

Today is Publication Day for friend Jo Allen’s latest story in her Lake District detective series. Death on the Lake is available here

May be an image of sky and text that says "Three young people on a boat. Vodka and the wrong sort of coke. JOALLEN DEATH ON THE LAKE Three people aboat. Vodka and nd wrong ot What possibly wrong? What could possibly go wrong? DCI Satterthwaite #5 Now available.or Kindle and in paperback Free to read on KU"

So, together with Sandi Toksvig’s wonderful Between the Stops and Olga Wojtas’s Miss Blaine’s Pupil and the Vampire Menace, my reading material is sorted.

Keep Safe,