Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives 2021 – #Pot Luck – #Writing – What’s In a Name? And How Do You Choose One? by Marcia Meara

Since this series began in January 2018 there have been over 1000 Posts from Your Archives where bloggers have taken the opportunity to share posts to a new audience… mine. The topics have ranged from travel, childhood, recipes, history, family and the most recent series was #PotLuck where I shared a random selection of different topics.

In this series I will be sharing posts from the last six months of 2020

This series is now closed for new participants but there will be a new series in August sharing posts from the first six months of 2021.

This is the first post from author Marcia Meara and is an article she wrote for
Story Empire on the subject of characters and choosing suitable names.

 What’s In a Name? And How Do You Choose One? by Marcia Meara

Happy Moon’s Day, Everybody! Marcia here, with some thoughts about names. Shakespeare’s words above might be true for roses, but are they always true for the characters in our books? I’m not so sure. Certain names can trigger specific memories and images for each of us, for sure, but not always in ways that are what we want readers to picture when we tell our stories.


For instance, what would you choose to name a gorgeous, well-built Adonis of a hero like this one? Gomer? Probably not, unless you were deliberately being humorous or ironic.

And what about your nerdy little computer geek who saves the world? He might turn out to be a hero, but I’m guessing a name like Goliath would be a poor choice, for the same reason.

It’s not that names always have to point to what your hero/heroine looks like, or even what he or she may end up doing through the course of the book. It’s more that you should be aware that naming your stalwart and handsome Prince Charming after your Uncle Lembert is likely to put an image in the mind of your readers that might not be quite what you intend. Or want.

And then there’s the possibility that your book might actually defeat the odds and become a nationwide best seller and a smash hit movie one day. Okay, those are high odds, but why not write with them in mind if the idea of that pleases you? You know. Just in case. So if Lembert’s your prince, be aware that the second thing Hollywood will want to do–right after totally miscasting everyone in the film, of course–will be to rename your hero. Just ask James Fenimore Cooper how his Natty Bumppo became Nathaniel Poe in 1992’s Last of the Mohicans.

So with all of the above in mind, how do you go about picking the perfect name for your characters? I’m sure there are a lot of different ways to do this, but here are a few tips that might get you started.

First, think about your setting and the type of people who live in your fictional town or area. For instance, I write books set in the southern part of the U.S.A. because this is where I was born and have spent most of my life. I know the people and places and dialect pretty well, and am comfortable with southern characters in my books. So the first thing I do is look for old southern surnames. Yep. That’s a thing. (Probably works for every other locale, too.) One of my favorite sites contains a listing of over 700 southern surnames found in old graveyards.

That’s where I found the last name Painter, which I chose for my three brothers featured in one of my series. It’s also where I found southern last names that worked well for their first names, too, hence, Jackson, Forrest, and Hunter. A little more poking around the graveyard gave me the surnames of Truitt (Billy) and Purvis (Lester) which worked perfectly for two more of my secondary characters.

But sometimes choosing old surnames isn’t the way to go, and it’s not how I picked the names for my two main characters in the first book of that same series. I had specific images in mind for both the heroine and the hero, based on very definite reasons related to the plot. The “old southern surnames” trick wouldn’t work.

My leading lady was to be a fiery, hot-tempered, redheaded gal of Irish heritage, so I chose the name Mary Margaret Devlin for her. I didn’t even have to research to know that her first and middle names are quite common Irish names. But I did do a search for Irish surnames, so I could choose one that fit, but yet was a bit different, too. So my final choice was Maggie Devlin, which worked for me.

For my hero, I deliberately wanted an impossibly good looking, big, and well-built man who was as genuinely nice as he was hunky and attractive. And since I wanted Maggie (who had a grudge against men in general) to hate this poor guy from the get-go, I decided to make him of Scandinavian descent, so she could poke fun at him for looking too much like “Thor.”

I went Googling again for appropriate Scandinavian names,, and ended up choosing Gunnar Wolfe because it sound very Vikingly and strong. To me, it had a heroic ring to it, and I wanted that as part of his whole persona, even though he’s actually a rather quiet man who loves nothing more than photography.

So that’s another way to go about it. Think of who you want your readers to picture and how you want them to connect with that character, then do your research–especially if you’re looking for regional or ethnic names. There are a ton of websites out there that can help you find names appropriate to your character’s looks, personality, and heritage. I usually narrow it down fairly quickly to two or three names I think will work, then make my final choice based on the one that feels right to me.

Then there’s my last method of choosing names. Again, relying on Google, I enter “popular baby names.” You can narrow the search by gender, or you can look for the most popular names around the time your character was born.

Approximate birth year alone can make a huge difference. Many names popular decades ago are not in use much today and vice versa. You probably don’t want to name your story’s 75-year-old granny Tiffany, for instance. I can pretty much guarantee you that no baby girls born in 1945 would have been christened that. Mildred, Bernice, or Maxine, maybe. Or even Marcia. 😉 But not Tiffany.

Tiffany? Is That You?

BTW, the most popular names in recent years include Ashely, Madison, Brianna, and Cheyenne, in case you’re wondering, with nary a Helen or Martha in the bunch. (NOTE: I wouldn’t recommend using the most popular current names in a book set today unless you are making a specific point with it. Looking for something popular but not overdone will likely serve you better.)

The take-away from all of this is:

  • Fictional names are important because they help your readers imagine your characters.
  • It’s worth spending some time picking just the right ones in hopes they’ll work the way you’d like.
  • Do your research based on what you want your readers to imagine when they meet each character. That can include how they picture the general appearance, heritage, and age of each character.
  • Try to choose names that will bolster your desired image if you are hoping for a certain look to pop into the minds of your readers immediately.
  • Seemingly inappropriate or surprising names can work great if you’re looking for irony or comedy, so by all means consider using them if that’s your goal.
  • And REMEMBER: Perfect character names won’t turn a bad book into a good one. They won’t magically improve your grammar, your plot, or your writing style. But great names can certainly make a good book even better. Maybe think of it as the icing on the cake.
  • Plus Hollywood won’t have to come up with new ones when they decide your story is movie material.

Just Sayin’ …..

And that’s it for this week, everyone. Now it’s your turn. Tell us below what you think. Have you employed search engines to help you choose your names? Do you try to find names that portray the look or actions of your characters? Do you have specific sites that have been extra helpful with this? As always, inquiring minds wanna know!

Thanks for stopping by today, and I hope you’ll stay tuned for our regular Monday, Wednesday, and Friday posts here on Story Empire. There are sure to be lots of good things coming up, so don’t miss out! I’ll be back before long with a new Why Write Wrong post for you, too. See you then!

Meanwhile, go forth to write with happy hearts and fabulously perfect character names! And Granny hopes you remember to have fun while you’re at it, because fun’s the very best thing to have! 😀

(All images above were created by me or obtained from Pixabay.)

©Marcia Meara 2020

A selection of books by Marcia Meara

Read the reviews and buy the books: Amazon US And : Amazon UK – Marcia Meara on: Goodreads – Blog:Marcia Meara WritesTwitter: @MarciaMeara

Marcia Meara lives in central Florida, just north of Orlando, with her husband of over thirty years, four big cats, and one small dachshund.

When not writing or blogging, she spends her time gardening, and enjoying the surprising amount of wildlife that manages to make a home in her suburban yard. She enjoys nature. Really, really enjoys it. All of it! Well, almost all of it, anyway. From birds, to furry critters, to her very favorites, snakes. The exception would be spiders, which she truly loathes, convinced that anything with eight hairy legs is surely up to no good. She does not, however, kill spiders anymore, since she knows they have their place in the world. Besides, her husband now handles her Arachnid Catch and Release Program, and she’s good with that.

Spiders aside, the one thing Marcia would like to tell each of her readers is that it’s never too late to make your dreams come true. If, at the age of 69, she could write and publish a book (and thus fulfill 64 years of longing to do that very thing), you can make your own dreams a reality, too. Go for it! What have you got to lose?


Thanks very much for dropping in and I hope you will head over to check Marcia’s books out.. I have read several and I can highly recommend them.. thanks Sally.

71 thoughts on “Smorgasbord Posts from Your Archives 2021 – #Pot Luck – #Writing – What’s In a Name? And How Do You Choose One? by Marcia Meara

  1. Sally, thanks so much for sharing this archived post today! I’d totally forgotten about it. (But then, I’ve already forgotten what I had for breakfast an hour ago! Doh!) I do think names are super important, and well worth the effort of some research. Especially for our main characters. Hope some of your readers will pick up a few new ideas on how to find good ones!

    Keep on rockin’, my friend! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Great post! There are certain names I could never use for a character I like because I associate them with unpleasant people in my past. I do check with the lists of popular names when writing about earlier decades. As a teacher, I became aware of trends. When I started, the Waynes and Shanes were dropping off the top end and Craigs, Damiens, Debbies and Julies were coming in. There were already some Tiffanys by the time I left!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks, Trish. Glad you enjoyed the post, and I agree about names I’d never use for one of my characters. Old boyfriends (or husbands!) for instance. Urk. And people who standout because they were simply awful to be around. Unless that’s what I’m hunting for a certain character. Mostly, though, the names on that particular list STAY there, and don’t make it into any of my books.

      As for names that come and go, when my son was born, I had never met anyone in my life named Jason. (Honestly!) One night, I was watching a movie starring Jason Robards, and decided that would be perfect for the baby. Turned out to be the #1 boy’s name in 1971! My son grew up with several other Jason’s in every class at school, I think. Who would have guessed? I did much better with Erin for my daughter. She never went to school with another girl named the same, but folks did insist on spelling her name Aaron! Ack.

      Names are tricky! 😀

      Liked by 3 people

  3. Pingback: #ReblogAlert – #SmorgasbordPostsFromYourArchives – What’s in a Name and How Do You Choose One – #writing | The Write Stuff

  4. This is a great post by the amazing Marcia. I agree names for our characters are important. Especially regional names. When I was discussing naming the new baby with my then young son, he said, “Don’t we have to see what the baby looks like first?” It’s kind of the same with naming a character.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks so much, Darlene! (I’m going to tell my husband you called me amazing. He’ll be amazed, all right! 😀 😀 😀 ) I’m really glad you enjoyed the post. It was one I had a lot of fun putting together. And I know just what your son meant! We do need to at least know who the character is, or what he looks like, or something to give us guidance when we go name shopping. Thanks for stopping by today, too! 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  5. Marcia has such a great sense of humor, and this post is priceless. I think it’s interesting how some names just show up and other are a huge struggle. But I agree that they’re incredibly important. Wonderful share from the archives, Sally.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. An interesting Post. Looking up names with the help of Mr Google is what I do for my historical novels. I wanted Roman and Celtic names for one book, and Viking and Anglo Saxon for another. Easy by doing a Google search.
    For my Fantasy characters, often names pop into my head. I don’t really like fantasy books where the names are Earth names. I figure someone in a completely different world, maybe even a different dimension, would not be called Andrew or Mary.
    If a name doesn’t present itself, I take the first half of one name and attach it to the second half of another. E.g. Davrael (David and Michael).

    Liked by 3 people

    • Sounds like you are very familiar with the process and know just which areas you want to search. As for fantasy names, I’m not too fussy as a reader, though I do like them to sound exotic and different. The only thing I really dislike is names that are totally unpronounceable. I have to be able to call them something in my head and I balk at things that just sound garbled if I try saying them aloud. Now names like Davrael work great! Good job! And thanks for stopping by today! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  7. What a great post, Marcia! Names are so important, and I’m not the greatest at choosing them, but I sure think about it a lot. Thank you, Sally, for featuring Marcia today. 💗

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Interesting post! For certain, that’s no Tiffany.🤣 It’s funny how certain names conjure up images for me. I taught so many Jasons. They were often red-headed little pistols. I know a husband/wife teaching duo who crossed off potential names for their baby-to-be based on their past experiences in the classroom. 😊

    Liked by 3 people

    • Haha! And yep, Jason came from being extremely rare and went straight to the top. I know Jasons all over the place these days. Not that it’s not a great name. Just that I hadn’t meant to choose one quite so popular. *sigh*

      Nor did I want something bizarre. I knew a couple who planned to name their child Rainbow Magic if it was a girl, and Rainbow Magik if it was a boy, though I never figured out how they made that determination. I just wasn’t up for anything quite that unusual. 😀 Uncommon, yes, but not something the poor kid would want to have legally changed later in life, especially if they aspired to someday become a bank manager, or an investment broker, or a judge, or any position where some dignity might factor in. 😯 Names. They give us a run for our money at times.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. What a wonderful post on choosing names. They are SO important to our story. Just like the book cover, a name can immediately give a reader a visual. Thank you for sharing Marcia’s advice, Sally!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Names, ye Gods! So difficult to pick them. My family members do not ever use their given names. Aunts and uncles use other names and we all know Hollywood was known – back when – for changing the names of stars. it is a wonder any of us has a clue who we are. Gravestones are wonderful – explore. I found a Faney (Faynee) in one and a Cinderella in another. Just right for a village story, I was writing. One day, much later, at the bus stop with the Mater and who should rock up but a real-life Cinderella – a local Gypsy everyone knew. Cinderella Greene. She was just as I imagined my Cinderella to be. Graveyards are a haven of delight. Good luck Marcia.x

    Liked by 2 people

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