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What’s in a Name? On Naming Characters

Naming a character, especially the main character of a story, is one of the hardest things a writer does. Oh, sometimes a name pops into your head and you build a story around it. Usually, the story and a character or two come to you first and you have to find appropriate names for them. As a writer, I want names that fit the locale, the nationalities and the ages of my characters, but more than that, I want names that have meaning and resonate with my readers. I’m sure most writers feel the same.

Cover of Steel City Confidential

My Morelville Mysteries series is well established. Those characters live in a fictional country village modeled after the one I live in. They sport last names common to people in this area and its surrounds. The most I usually have to do for a new book in the series is name a few new suspects and maybe a never before seen villager or two.

Now that I’m starting an all-new series based in a large, ethnically diverse city, I find myself starting all over to name all of the characters I’ve identified so far in the plot I’m building.

The Name Game

So far, I have 13 key characters I need to name for Steel City Confidential. There’s the lawyer and the employees of her law firm. There’s her client. Of course, there’s a victim. With victims and prosecutions come prosecuting attorneys, a judge, investigators and so forth. Then, each of the key characters (lawyer, client and victim) have family members. That amounts to a lot of names! What to do?

I threw up my hands, of course. No really. I sent out a newsletter to a large portion of my subscribers last week and asked for help:

“I haven’t named my lead attorney yet or her law firm. Help me find an appropriate Pittsburgh ethnic first and last name and/or law firm name (typically the attorney’s name) for a female attorney in her early to mid-forties.”

Name game children

Now, I did offer a bit of incentive for this request and boy, did it ever pay off. I’ve received dozens of names. I’ve gotten so many, that not only can I name the attorney (there are a couple of very strong contenders), but I can name most of the other female characters I know about so far and even a couple of the men.

The beauty part? Many of the readers who submitted names told me why they picked the names the did. This led to some interesting discussions with a few of them on family history, genealogy, entomology and ethnicity. It also led me down some serious rabbit holes of research.

I’ve decided, I’m going to use several of the names suggested and make it right with all of those readers. Oh, and the little contest is still open. Have a name you think is a winner? Go ahead and send it along. I might just use it and give you the credit.

P.S.: Please don’t submit the name “Sarah” or any variation of it. While I agree it’s a lovely name, multiple readers already think I should use it.