This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Monday, September 29, 2008

Naming Characters in Fiction

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

I can't write a story until I have the names of my characters situated in my head. This isn't as easy as it sounds. Most often, I start with The Character Naming Source Book. It's a great reference because it gives you surnames with the country they originated from and the meaning of the names. This is important to your characters' background, family origin, culture and beliefs.

Because America is the great American melting pot of so many different names, cultures and countries of origin, we tend to just choose names that we like for our hero and heroines and names we dislike for our villians. This isn't good enough. We've got to be true to who our characters are, correct for the time period we're writing in, and the place we've set the story.

One of the problems I've struggled with is having several characters in one story with names that begin with the same letter. I don't know why I do this. It could cause unnecessary confusion for my readers and I know better. But I still find myself doing this anyway. So I end up correcting it during my edit revisions.

In Highland Blessings I had Evan and Elliot.
In Awakened Redemption I had Alyse and Avery.

I'm in the process of choosing new names for Faith Endures, but once you begin to think of a character as a certain person, it's hard to give them a new identity--even if their characterization doesn't change. You think of the character by that name. So try to think of something similar that may still mean the same thing. For instance, I'm changing Alyse to Elyse.

Other ways I like to choose names is through Genealogy research of known family surnames in the area of where my books are set. These are accurate and appropriate. Tombstones and census records will tell you who lived in the area and when they lived there. You can't get more accurate than that, although keep in mind some of the spelling variations were different from place to place and family branch to family branch. This is because of dialect in regions, illiteracy, and people changing their names to accommodate the new area where they are living. Some great genealogy resource sites are and These sites will get you started in the right direction.

These are just a few thoughts to keep in mind when you set out to name your characters or you go through a mansuscript with deep edits and revisions.


For many years, I've been on a list for readers of Regency novels. One issue the British members of the list bring up again and again is that the names Americans use for British characters drives them crazy. They are not only anachronistic to the time, they are out of place for the region, class, or time. It makes me conscious to pick the right names for my characters. Don't use a name because it's popular now. A Madison heroine in 1815 would have been thought pretty weird, even with the excuse that the name is from the family. I don't even like contemporary novels with adult women named Madison; it wasn't a girl's name until recently, too soon for those children to be grown up. But then, I have issues with names that are supposed to make females not sound like females. In history, women didn't try to sound like men in their names.


That's great advice. Your expertise has been more helpful than I could ever express. I'm so glad we have you on our history loop!