What’s in a Name?

Name: Rose Roulette

What’s in a name?

That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet . . .

William Shakespeare’s famous line from Romeo and Juliet rings across the centuries and lodges in my head these days as I finish up my novel.

One of the most often asked questions of novelists is how they chose names for their characters.

Some have a scientific method which involves examining baby  name books or web sites, taking into account what era they’re writing and whether or not they want to honor or condemn a family member.

Other than a brief check to make sure my name choice is appropriate (particularly for historical fiction), I don’t do that.

My characters tend to show up with their names firmly in place–whether I like them or not. Click to Tweet

It’s shocking how often the original names work, even when I try to change them, it becomes clear the names they were ‘born” with are right for them.

In the novel I’m just finishing, the two central characters arrived after a dawn prayer with the names Jock and Claire. I got up and wrote their first chapter, learning who they were and why they behaved that way.

Claire was easily understandable, the story is about  her finding clarity for her life.

But Jock?

What kind of a name is that?

Jack I could see. I like that name and what it invokes: strong, confident, resourceful.


To a modern ear, Jock sounds like an athlete. That’s not who my character is.

Behind the Name tells me Jock is a Scottish version of Jack.

Of course.

Hmm. I thought he was Irish . . .

 Family names

In my novella An Inconvenient Gamble, our hero’s name is Charles.

Charles is a great name, strong, confident, perfect for post-Civil War America.

My parents loved the name, too.

Which left me in a dilemma. Was it fair to name a hero after my youngest brother? What would my other brother think? (You can figure it out by reading about his character in The Gold Rush Christmas!)

I tried to change his name, but my fingers kept typing Charles, because that’s what everyone in the story called him!

I gave up. Charles he is.

Neither brother has ever commented . . . .

Literary Names

In 2011, I wrote a very fast first chapter and synopsis on the last day you could enter the ACFW Genesis contest for unpublished novelists. My story, The Lion and the Blackbird, ended up a finalist. That left me scrambling that summer to write the novel before the winners were announced (alas, still not done.)

What is humorous was the names of the main characters. Two sets of fraternal twins in the same family. Our heroine is Trish. Her supercilious older twin is Benedict.


Name: Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing....

Where did that come from?

I can see Ben (numerous relatives), Benjamin (friends) or something else, but Benedict?

Benedict means “blessed” in Latin.

Benedict is not a blessing. And why would you name one twin such a name and then call his sister Trish?

Ah, it all became clear. This fighting duo has another Shakespearean link, as you would expect with the artsy parents they had.

Trish is a nickname for Beatrice.

All you Shakespeare scholars can raise your hands now.

I was surprised. But it works.

The younger set of twins, however, were even more surprising. (Remember, I was writing fast and these names sprang from my fingers. I had no control and had to send in the story. And yet . . . oh, my).

The irritating younger sister is Isolde.

How do you even pronounce that and WHY?


Those same scholars, Shakespearean or not, will know who her twin’s name: Tristan.

But that’s not what Isolde’s brother called himself. He’s got a nickname, too, which corresponds to his bushy red hair: Fox.

Fox doesn’t like his real name, so no one calls him by it.

Benedict and Isolde, the professional musicians, insist on their exotic names while the hard working Trish and Fox push through life with nick names?

Ah, that’s part of the tale.

(Actually, these names don’t quite work; these are siblings, not lovers, but their mother was an ethereal artist who didn’t care about niceties like that)

It reminds me of the names of people I love. Some of them carry names I’ve always loved: Christopher and Robert. Others were given names that surprised me, even when I did the naming: Jonathan and Nicholas.

And yet, those names are who they are. I love those names because I love those people.

When friends complain about the names their children are threatening to name their grandchildren, I tell them not to worry.

Once a person is named, that’s who they are and you’ll love them, no matter what you call them. Click to Tweet

(And that’s been true in my life even for the people who have changed their birth names).

What’s in a name?

A marker, a definer, but also love.

Where do they come from?

Those persnickity boys in the basement working overtime on my psyche so that people I’d never heard of in the morning, capture my heart and my imagination by nightfall.

How do I choose the names for my characters?

I don’t.

Like in any new friendship, they simply introduce themselves. Click to Tweet

And that’s who they are.

 How did you choose the names when you had a choice–whether for a child, a character or a renaming of yourself? Click to Tweet

(Trish, by the way, is married to William, son of Kit Marlowe . . . )



What’s in a name? Adorable!




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