Monday, December 19, 2011

Guest post: Naming Characters After People You Know by Denise Grover Swank

Naming Characters After People You Know

One of the first things a writer is faced with when creating a story is naming the characters. For me, this is like naming my children. When you name a child you have to test it out to make sure it’s going to work when the child is two or fifty-two. But with a fictional character, you have to make sure that you’re not going to get sick of typing hundreds of times. In Here, I used Julia 231 times. (Here is written in first person which accounts for the low number.) Evan is used 669 times and Reece is listed 391 times.

But there’s often more to a name than just liking the sound of it. Or how easy it is to type. When I wrote Chosen, my urban fantasy, I wanted the characters names to have meaning. The main female character was almost named Lenore, but it just didn’t sound right to me. Yet the meaning did. So I dug a bit more on baby names sites (the number one source of finding names for many authors) and found another name that was perfect. Emmanuella. But I couldn’t have my character running around with that name, plus I liked the idea of keeping it hidden for awhile. But that meant she needed a nickname.


Slight problem. My youngest daughter is named Emma. Honestly, I’m mature enough that I separated the two in my mind without issue. My Emma was a three year old. The Emma in Chosen was a twenty-seven year old woman who had did whatever she had to do to protect her son. But what would readers think? Would they think it was weird? In the end, I decided I needed to do what was best for the story and Emmanuella was perfect.

A few books later, I wrote Here. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I wrote Here because my then thirteen year old daughter begged me to write a book she and her friends could read. I loved reading YA, so it wasn’t hard to agree. But her next request floored me.

“I want you to name the character after me.”

At first, I refused. “No,” I said. “That’s too weird.”

“You did it with Emma. That wasn’t too weird.”

“But that was different.”


“The two Emma’s were completely opposite. You’re thirteen and the character in the book is sixteen. It’s too close.” But I thought about it. Could I write a book using my daughter’s name for the main character that was close in age? Did I even want to attempt it?

In the end, I told her yes. And between her squeals of delight, I qualified my agreement: “If it gets too weird, I’m changing the name.”

It was a risk. I’ve never renamed a main character but I suspect it would be like deciding to completely change the name of your three year old. Did I want to face that challenge?

But a funny thing happened within the first chapter of the book: Julia Philips became a completely different and distinctive person from my daughter. I never once thought of my daughter as I wrote the book, other than to wonder if she would like the story when I was done.

I’ve gone on to use the names of people I know for other characters. The fun is making them completely opposite from who they are in real life. Thankfully, so far the name bequeathers have all enjoyed the results. Just ask the youth minister I made into an evil megalomaniac. He tells everyone he knows.

1 comment:

Samantha said...

I found this guest post interesting because I do the same. Some characters in my first book have similar names to people I know. I was trying to show them that they impacted my life at one point or another - even if the character is completely different from them!

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