Monday, February 5, 2024

Naming my imaginary friends, an open book blog hop post


Welcome to Open Book Blog Hop. You can find us every Monday talking about the writing life. I hope you'll check out all the posts: you'll find the links at the bottom of this post.

How do you choose your characters' names?


For my main body of work, the Menopausal Superheroes series, I wanted an every-woman feel for my main characters. 

So, to pick the first names of Jessica, Patricia, Cindy, Linda, and Helen, I went to the internet and looked at census information for the birth year of each of them, and chose from the top ten most popular names that year. 

The Menopausal Superheroes as drawn by Charles C. Dowd. 

Their last names came about for a few different reasons. Jessica Roark AKA Flygirl took her last name from an old friend. Patricia O'Neill AKA The Lizard Woman borrowed her surname from my beloved dog. Cindy Liu, my mad scientist, took on her moniker after some research into common Chinese surnames that English speakers would find relatively easy to pronounce. Linda Álvarez, later Leonel, AKA Fuerte adopted their last name from one of my former students. Helen Braeburn's last name was a bit of a pun to entertain myself, based on her apple-shaped figure and her powers of fire wielding.

When it came time to name all the past lives of Cindy Liu's father, one of the villains of the series, I named them for actors from old horror movies, recombining names like Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Basil Rathbone, John Carradine, and Peter Lorre to make all his aliases. This was partly because of his story line--he literally has transferred his brain from body to body after killing the men whose body he wants to take over--and partly just because I love those old movies and the actors who starred in them. 

image source

Thoughout the series, minor characters have often been named after people in my life, just a little Easter egg to myself and them, a thank you for love and support. So all the members of my critique group have made appearances in their somewhere, with one or both of their names. So have several other folks from my broader writing community. One of my kids made an appearance as a child with a healing ability. 

In other pieces I've written, my naming practices have varied. 

Sometimes it's about researching the time frame, class, and ethnicity of my character to choose an appropriate name. Dienihatiri, the main character in "His Destroyer" published in Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire, lived in Egypt during the time of the ten plagues. I ran across the name of a real historical person in my research about the nature of what the lives of enslaved people were like, and kept it for my story.

The woman architect in one of my upcoming projects, a Gothic romance called The Architect and the Heir, came to me with her name already in place, Devon Brook. I loved it because it allowed for the gender misunderstanding I'd need for the plot, and played on her discomfort with water. 

So, I guess I don't have any one way that I get there, but I find the right name for my imaginary friends one way or another. Know any good stories about character names? Tell me about it in the comments! And don't forget to check out what my colleagues have to say about how they handle this in their work at the link below. 

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  1. I've used those name lists on the internet, too. But I adore your idea of using the names of villains from old movies!

  2. Great method, and a nod to the stars of the silver screen.

  3. What a good idea to look up the 10 most popular names from the year of your character's birth. I think I'll have a go at that!

  4. I used those name list on the internet too. I got the names for minor characters from look up the popular names in the 50s.