Reader Question: Naming characters

How do you go about deciding character names? Is it something you put a lot of thought into? Or something that just springs on you as you plan? Why was Cass, Cass?

I pick names mostly by feel. The associations I have with the name, and whether that seems to fit the particular character. For Cass, I’d always liked the name Cassie, and I also liked the mythological association (in Greek mythology, Cassandra was a woman cursed to make true prophecies about the future and have no one believe her–granted, people do believe Cass at least some of the time, but she does speak a lot of truth no one wants to hear). And as I got to know her character, I knew she’d have shortened her name from the softer sounding “Cassie” to the more no-nonsense “Cass” as part of her transformation after junior high.

The original Cassandra

I do give a lot of thought to finding the best name possible, though, and they don’t always just come to me. I often flip through my baby name book (I use 1000,000+ BABY NAMES) once I’m getting close to the outlining stage of a story idea and jot down any names that jump out at me and fit the tone or setting of the book or one particular character. Then I pick out the names for all the main and secondary characters I know about, trying to make sure that none of the names sound too similar. (For ex, I avoid where possible having more than one character’s name start with the same letter, unless they’re otherwise very distinct from each other, e.g., in my current WIP I have a Jena and a Joss.) The list also comes in handy as I’m writing and minor characters pop up who need names.

What I find most interesting about character names is how the characters themselves use them. Like Cass shortening her name from Cassie, and which characters refer to her the new nickname or stick to the old one. In the WIP mentioned above, my main character is a pretty manipulative guy, and one of the ways you see that is in how he adapts people’s names: using childish or girly (for a guy) nicknames with people he wants to assert himself over, or giving a tough new nickname to someone whose confidence he’s trying to build.

Now I have a question for all you readers: What’s your favorite character name, and why? (from any book)


Reader Question: Naming characters — 7 Comments

  1. Hi Megan. You’ve got a winner with Cass and the various forms of her name. Seems to fit your story perfectly.

    I love picking names for characters and spend time with my baby name book too! I also look them up online for specific regions of the country. Very fun.

    My favorite character name is Jean Louise (Scout) Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird. In the story, both her given name and her nickname are used perfectly to differentiate between the adults and her peers as well as showing how she grows from her tomboyish outlook on life to a more grownup young woman.

  2. When I started writing, I used the school directory from my daughter’s school to pick names. I now often pick them by what they mean, so I use a magical name directory. I love Jasmine as a name and used it as a main character. Cassie is one of my secondary character names. I promise I had it before your book came out. I also would love to use Tara some day. It’s the name of the Indian goddess of compassion.

    • No worries–Cassie is such a common name I would never think you borrowed it from GHOST (and even if you did it wouldn’t matter)! Jasmine and Tara are very pretty. I used to use my old yearbooks to find last names for characters.

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