Friday, February 26, 2021

How characters are named

What's in a name? Shakespeare put those words into Juliet's mouth half a millennium ago, and people have been asking each other that question ever since. We laugh at "funny" names and grimace at others. I went to college with the daughter of William Lear, of Lear Jet. Her name was Crystal. Nice, huh? Until you hear her full name: Crystal Shanda Lear. Really. I've always wondered why he made his child the butt of a joke. Maybe he didn't see it that way?

Also in our college was a basketball star named Kresimir Cosic He was a handsome kid, a good student, and a collegiate All-American. His name sounded odd to me then because I was a sheltered teenager who had never heard Croatian names. I'm sure my very English name sounded peculiar to him.

For authors, who are sticking names on characters virtually every time we sit down to work, naming becomes an interesting sort of game. Hmmm. My heroine in this story needs a pair of good friends she can confide in and trust. What shall I call them? I spend a moment deciding  whether I may want to write other books in the same series with the friends as the main characters. If so, I'll need names that work for a long time. 

Years ago, well after I'd stopped naming children, I bought baby name books. Later, I turned to the Internet. The whole process became simpler when I realized names are generational. (I know; it took me a while.) Names like Mary, Betty, Norma, and Margaret were popular in the 1930s. So was Dorothy, which is now coming back among the under-10 set. Girls in the 50s and 60s were named Karen, Linda, Sharon, Susan, and Patricia. I was one of five Susans in my high school drum corps.

Biblical names were in when we named our kids, and ours have names right out of the scriptures. For today's new parents, the idea seems either to go back to older names like Adelaide, Emma, and Sadie, three of my granddaughters, or something new and unusual. I have grandsons whose first names are Tanis and Corbridge. My new great-grandson is named Arden.

Once I realized names go in cycles, naming characters became even easier. I decide how old my character is and count back to that year. I look up the most popular names for that time, usually ignoring the first five and choosing something from the next five or ten. It works!

Sometimes an author needs to give her characters unusual names. In my novella, A Monumental Love, the main character is Roxelle. This comes in useful when she starts to make fun of an unusual name she hears and her friend reminds her she shouldn't talk. 

In my newest release, Over the Rainbow (free for a limited time, but only to those who subscribe to my newsletter), I deliberately gave older names to Joan and Bob. Having each of them named for an older relative is one of the things they have in common. As they become acquainted, they find others, many others!

Choosing names is more of the more interesting parts of the work authors, but I'm always grateful that I don't actually have to live with the names I pick. Some of them are doozies.

Susan Aylworth loves travel, most music, words in virtually all polite forms, and really good raspberry jam. Find her at, or write her with your ideas for naming characters at her website or at She's also on Twitter @Susan Aylworth and Facebook ( She loves to hear from readers.


  1. Naming characters is fun. Crystal has quite a name. As long as you didn't know her middle name, you wouldn't think a thing about it. I knew this guy whose name was Jack Pine Trees. His sister was Merry Christmas Trees, and his brother was Douglas Fir Trees. Again the middle name made the difference.

  2. I, too, enjoy naming characters. Since my radio station is playing a lot of Johnny Cash today (his birthday) another example of names that are built-in life challenges is the song, "A Boy Named Sue."