Merton, is that your name?

January 22, 2010 at 5:33 am (Character) (, , , , , )

I finally managed to get back into writing and straight away all of the planning I did fell away as my brain decided I wanted to write something different. 2500 words later I have a really interesting opening sequence to a story that may or may not work but at the moment I’m really keen on writing it because I can see that beautiful clear path from where I am to where I want the story to go. The problem being that without a plan I will waffle through about ninety pages and introduce characters that have no purpose and I am setting myself up to have to do sixty-trillion rewrites but I would rather do that then continue to write plans and outlines that never get turned into drafts so I’ll see how things go. If I get stuck I could always start writing a plan mid-way and direct myself toward the end.

The other problem is that without a plan every time a new characters walks into the scene (or drops from the building above as the case may be) I’m wondering who they are and for me that usually starts by naming them. Once I know the name of a character the other details fill themselves in.

Jasmine is cautious but defiant in the face of danger. She’d rather sneak around things than risk direct confrontation. Jasmine is blonde and thin but she isn’t very tall. The character appeared I knew what her name was and I instantly filled in a back story for her. I could tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Jasmine.  Jasmine isn’t my protagonist. She’s just someone the protagonist ran into and decided to help out.

However, Jasmine was being attacked by a thug. Who is the thug? What’s his story? He isn’t an essential character. He isn’t in the story for very long. He won’t be coming back into the story. He is there to facilitate Jasmine meeting the protagonist. What is his name? I considered quite a few options and at the moment I’ve left Merton in the space however I know he won’t still be Merton after a rewrite because there is no way I’m naming a character that. At least not a character I’m intending anyone to take seriously.

Merton means farmstead by the pool and is an old English name apparently.  Jasmine is of course a flower which is why she is a bit delicate with hidden inner strength. I don’t always worry about whether my characters names are meaning appropriate but I try not to make them completely inappropriate because if the reader knows what the name means it might put them off the story.

How do your characters end up with their names?



  1. avidgoldfield said,

    I name characters mostly randomly or perhaps subconsciously. Also it seems to me that if you go back naming way to many characters you will never finish a book, but that might just be a misconception on my part. But think about it.
    If naming jasmine leads to naming the thug might lead to naming every single person in the thugs life and that would add a lot of other names eventually you would have named all the people in that world but it would have taken such a long time that you would have an insane amounts of characters but no book. 😛
    To me lower sub characters are just tools, while the main characters and the ones closest to the main characters are real. Or well, at least in my mind they are.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I kind of disagree about sub characters just being tools. I think that good, well worked sub-characters can really add some extra depth to the story and you need to really know your sub-characters to ensure you don’t make them inconsistent in their actions.

  2. Elizabeth Spann Craig said,

    I flip through old yearbooks from school, listen for names as I’m out and about. I use name generators like Seventh Sanctum, too.

    I like Merton and Jasmine.

    Mystery Writing is Murder
    Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Jasmine is probably going to stay but Merton has already been changed to Mark, Melvin, Mercutio, Marc and I’m now thinking I’ll just call him Mars Bar and move on.

  3. AlexJ said,

    Since my first book is sci-fi, guess I just played around with sounds when coming up with the character’s names.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      That’s fun sometimes, putting together different combinations and coming up with something that sounds a bit different. I am wary of making the names too out there though because I know some readers are put off if the can’t pronouce the character’s name.

  4. catwoods said,

    They just happen. I don’t put any conscious thought into it, as my fingers seem to just type names as I go along. I have never written a name and felt meh about. In fact, the opposite is true. Just like my characters arrive on their own, they bring their names with them.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I like it when that happens but it usually happens after I’ve worked with the character for a long time. Their name suddenly seems completely obvious.

  5. Lovely Lace said,

    I love for my names to have meanings. I have an old Funk and Wagnall’s dictionary with a list of fem and mas names at the end and I always look through that. There’s some unique names out there and what better place to put them than in a book? Choosing or coming up with names is different for different genres, though. I am writing a fantasy story, so unique names are OK. If your story was a modern drama, a strange name would have to reflect a strange character. Your character, Jasmine, wouldn’t seem so delicate if her name was Brunhilda! It’s a good idea to stick with Merton because you feel comfortable, then to change his name when you’re finished.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Yes, using any name and then coming back is definitely better than breaking the flow of writing when on a roll and distracting yourself for hours/days when you could be getting other parts of the story worked on.

  6. Corra McFeydon said,

    I have a baby name book. I never worry about what the name means? I can’t imagine anyone would know – or go through the trouble of looking it up, and even if they did, kids get stuck with names all the time that have odd meanings; soes it really affect to story? I just try to match names with culture and time period.

    Your process as you’re developing characters sounds exactly like mine. 🙂

    ~ Corra

    from the desk of a writer

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Good point about matching the names to culture and time-period. You can’t have a modern name running around in the 1700’s (well you can but it isn’t really a good idea). Thanks for the comment.

  7. Carol Kilgore said,

    Sometimes my characters tell me their names. Sometimes they lie to me and it takes a while before they tell me the truth. Sometimes I have a name in my head for no reason and pretty soon a character takes shape around it. Sometimes I have to search. When I do, I use baby name sites, genealogy sites, maps, IMDB, whatever I can think of.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Some characters definitely like to mislead us about their names and it takes awhile before we find the truth out.

  8. Jemi Fraser said,

    For my steampunk I searched Victorian popular names and baby names. I also did a quick peek at the family tree for my English relatives. Names seem to either work or not right away for me.

  9. Little Scribbler said,

    I’m not too picky with names. I just pick a name that sounds right, and suits where the character lives. I don’t look up the meanings of character names.

  10. rahmama said,

    I love naming my characters. It gives them flavor and ambience, so I put a lot of importance to the right name. That doesn’t mean I spend a lot of time of them. Sometimes I have to wait until the character agrees to his name, like my latest one, Daniel. Now that might not sound like a spicy name, but it fits his character.

    I was glad he agreed to this one because it’s versatile. I can have other characters call him Danny or Dan which has subtle nuances depending on how they use it. But then I’m into subtle. Maybe too much.

    Sometimes the name just flows out the tip of my fingers too. That’s always pretty cool.

  11. Barb said,

    I have a notebook where I write down names whenever I come up with them (the spam folder sometimes has very interesting names! ;-p). As I usually have a “virtual casting” for my novels, I try to keep the initial of the “actor” (so you have lots of B-female names in my stories). Then I also try to keep consistency through countries, i.e. the Varians had Italian names, the Blackmore English names, the southern kingdoms Indian names, the Islands Empire Japanese names, etc. That’s because I gave a sort of order to Silvery Earth, sometimes I’m not that precise! 🙂

  12. Jonathan Danz said,

    I like my names to reflect the flavor of the character’s personality. That said, I have character named Url, just like it sounds. That’s got to go. URL = lame. But it is a place holder. Like you said, having something to call this guy lets the story flow.

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