Character names need to be planned carefully. Beside the usual villains and heroines found in mysteries, I needed to have some story people with quirks and eccentricities. Names help set up characterization.
Selecting names for use in my first thriller, River Bones, was both fun and a lot of work.
I’d already written two novels and chosen great names for characters in those. So once a name is used for a character in one book, it cannot be used for a different character in any subsequent story. I also try to avoid reusing names when writing short stories.
The exceptions are when you write sequels using the same characters, or when you’ve written so many books you’ve used up every great name you can find. But that’s nearly impossible.
We create characters to be any type of person we need them to be. Doing a little research to make the names compliment the personalities can cinch how your reader loves or hates your fictional people.
In this study of the characters in River Bones, the meanings of most names are included. I usually first refer to my old copy of The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook. Sometimes I peruse baby naming books as well.
So, using names to enhance story people, what follows is the list I settled on, their meanings, and their placement in the story.
A Sara Mason Mystery
Great character names make your story people memorable. Taken from the US Review of Books review, this is what they say about some of the River Bones characters:
The Main Characters:
Sara May Mason - (princess, daughter of Atlas, works in stone) – Protagonist/Heroine
Daphine (Daph) Ella Whelan – (victory, beautiful fairy, joyful) – Sara’s best friend
Linette Alden - (little lion, wise friend) Buck’s wife, Sara’s high school friend
Buck Alden - (male deer, wise friend) Linette’s husband, Sara’s distant cousin
Pierce Newton - (rock, from the farm) Sara’s crush in high school, struck by lightning
Esmerelda (ET or Esme) Talbot - (Emerald, bloodhound) Former owner of Talbot House, founder of River Hospice
Fredrik Verner - (peaceful ruler, friend/protector) Nurse - Director at Esmerelda’s River Hospice
Tripp Unwyn - (traveler) Esmerelda’s hospice groundskeeper
Johanna Conroy - (persistent, fighter) Sheriff’s deputy
Xavier Isidoro - (owns new house, gifted ideas) Sheriff’s deputy
Huxley (Hux) Keane - (from Hugh’s meadow/intelligent, sharp) Esmerelda’s elusive friend
Crazy Ike Ames – Man in fog who digs in graveyards
Creating names for animals was an interesting job. Animal temperaments needed to be studied to choose the best breed to fit the plot. Animals played a huge part in this story.
Choco – Chocolate brown male pit bull puppy
Latte – Coffee & cream female pit bull puppy
Mimie la Jolie - (protector, the beautiful) Esmerelda’s black Standard Poodle
People names are also important for deceased people who show up in the story. They have a history, a reason why they are gone.
When they play a huge part in the personalities of heroines and villains, you develop them a bit. At times, only a few sentences may be needed.
Petra Lou Mason (rock, stone) Sara's deceased mother
Starla Gay Mason (star, stone) Sara's deceased sister
High School Friends
I found myself spending time creating names and personalities for those who were not real active in the story, but who had “speaking parts.” At times, these were not background or filler characters. They came to the front when their scene called for it to happen. Then they receded again.
Luningning (Luni) Rasay - Filipino fisherman, bait/boat shop. Val’s brother
Valeriano (Val) Rasay - Filipino fisherman, bait/boat shop. Luni’s brother
Herbert Frayne - Class President
Iana Underhill - classmate missing since 1994
In creating character names for those with minor parts, I did not spend as much time on their meanings, in fact, couldn't find any since I made up a couple names!
When creating character names, there are always those who remain in the background. They are only mentioned or seen in passing. When creating character names to “fill a scene” most likely a line or two will describe them. So, too, will their actions, even though they may not speak a word.
Quite a few of the people in this list do speak, however their scenes are short. But don’t let that fool you. When creating character names to portray anyone in your story, you must develop them, perhaps by their actions, which will usually suffice.
Kuan Qiong - (Jade, well-off, fine jade) Daphine’s daughter
Kuan Ying - (Hawk, well-off, hawk) Jade’s father. Daphine’s exhusband
Orson Talbot - (bear, bloodhound) Esmerelda’s husband
Jonas - Hospice patient
Woller - artist
Zara and Fred – Linette’s dinner friends.
Demetrio – one of Esmerelda’s hospice employees
Betty – Esmerelda’s daughter
Morgana – classmate who liked Pierce
Caren Olof York – High school classmate, wealthy, snobby
Norwood York – Classmate, Sacramento Police Commissioner
Mrs. Zheng – Pierce’s landlady
Fletcher Grable - Farmer
Xena – Part owner of Coffee Oasis
Paula Rowe – body identified
Laura Baines – body identified
Margot – Esmerelda catered her party.
Detective Vance – Female
Detective De Giorgio - Male
Lt. Gary Quill – Runs Sheriff’s K-9 Unit
Pete Carswell – Sara’s American boarder
Beni Noa – Sara’s tattooed Hawaiian boarder
Representative Stanley Poole & Nelda - Esmerelda's friends
Upton Zeno – Sacramento County Sheriff
John Glosser – declared missing
Some final thoughts on creating character names:
My novels may seem to have many characters. Actually, the main characters are the ones readers will follow in the story.
If you read any novel and list the characters you find there, you will see that every book contains many who people the story. Most of them fill the background of scenes but they are there.
Even the dilapidated, haunted mansion was named Talbot House because the Talbots once owned it. In choosing a name for the house, I closely considered the last name of the Talbots to make sure it would sound great as a name for the house. Creating character names touches every aspect of a story.
Choose character names that are relevant to a particular locale or time period.
Important, too, when setting a story in your hometown area, as I have with River Bones, choosing character names means being careful not to use names of friends or anyone else in the area.
It's important to do more than just research names for heroines, heroes, and villains.
I also make a list of full INITIALS of each character. I don’t want two or three people with same or similar initials, no matter how different the names sound.
They fact that their parents named them similarly also makes a point for the personalities of the parents. That adds to the parents’ characterization.
In creating character names, avoid naming your heroes or villains something like John Foster Day and your villain James Frederick Dunn. The initials are the same and when speaking or reading the names, John Day and James Dunn are just too close and would confuse your reader. The same applies to heroines and other females who people your plots.
Great character names are one aspect of a story that people remember. Character names and characterization can make your story memorable.