Monday, January 10, 2011

A Rogue By Any Other Name...

Words have meaning and names have power.  ~Author Unknown

I love naming characters in my novels. I pore over my myriad baby name books, scour the internet for just the perfect name, then spend hours writing or saying it while I compile the rest of that character. It sounds silly, but would you buy a book about a Viking named Bob? Even Robert the Viking doesn’t have a good ring to it.

I love good characters, ones I really bond with and enjoy whether they make me laugh or cry or raise a brow. And a name is inherent to that. I have been a romance reader for a looooong time. Really long time. I used to have a subscription to Silhouette’s Desire line and would eagerly receive my 6 books every month, devour them, then put them on the bookshelf. I also read anything Kathleen Woodiwiss or Diana Palmer put out. There were quite a few other authors I read but can’t remember (eek!) but I DO remember their characters names. And it drives me crazy because I want to find those books again to re-read them and find out if the book was really good or why it made such an impression on me.

Here’s an example (this was the mid to late-80s): the book was an historical, vaguely recall it being set on an island like Martinique, but I could be wrong. The two characters I remember are the hero Kincade or possibly Kincaid  and the heroine Chris, short for Christine. There was also a witchy woman vying for the hero’s attention who had a very sexy, Latin name, except I can’t remember that either. Any clues?
I remember Kade’s name and his general impression of a character being strong, forceful and sensual. I remember Chris being unafraid, a force of nature and not one to give in. Obviously these characters formed an impression on me, but I wonder, would they have done the same if they’d been named Bob and Jill? Probably not.

Not that there’s anything wrong with “regular” names. Edward and Jacob have proven to be phenomenal as have Harry and Ron. I just think it depends on the type of setting. For example: Brenna and Garrick. Any indicators? Any ideas what type of book those would be from? They are from Johanna Lindsey’s book Fires of Winter. She’s a Celtic captive and he’s a Viking. I haven’t read the story in many years, but it, too, stuck with me. Especially the scene where Garrick saves his young son Selig.

But I also find myself shying away from unpronounceable names, like ones with too many vowels or apostrophes or an overload of consonants. I don’t know about you, but when that happens, I have a standard set of “fill-in” names that I use. So Uyghor becomes Therrin and Sa’patke becomes Sarah. It works for me, but I do feel a twinge for the author because I’m sure they worked hard to find a name to fit their character. It’s not unlike naming your baby. Over and over again.
Photo from

So, what kind of character names do you like? Are there any you are tired of? Ones that have been over done or not done enough?

Here’s a list of my favorite names:
Ethan, Quinn, Garrick, Kincaid, Kellan, Amelia, Abigail, Catherine, Victoria, Marcus and Emily. There are tons more, but I want to hear from you!

Happy reading,


  1. Great post on names, Jennifer, and it brought to mind an interview I read once with Diana Gabaldon, where she said she only learned the pronunciation of one of her Gaelic character's names through the audio version of her book! Cracked me up because here I'd been struggling with that name while reading, finally making something up that sounded reasonable in my head--only to find out that she hadn't known, either!

    I'd write the name out here, but all I can remember is that it was female and started with an A...

  2. That's funny, Tina. I wonder how she wrote the whole book with that character?! Maybe in her mind, she was just Bob. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great subject, Jen. Just yesterday I was in need of an extra character's name so I went to the TV guide on television and mixed and matched actors names until I came up with something that sounded good. I too have to say the names over and over to make sure they sound right for the character.

    Funny story, Tina. Thanks for visiting!

  4. Funny, I was just thinking about names the other day.

    In my first published book, the hero was originally named Broc. When Harlequin bought the book, the second thing the editor asked, after asking me to change my OWN name (g - I was already ahead of her on that one) was could they change the hero's name.

    And I was like, sure, call him anything you want. LOL. He became Jake -- and now he's totally Jake in my head. It's like he never was Broc.

    However, had they asked to change the HEROINE'S name in that book (Harley), I would have had a problem with it. You see, Harley's name was an intregal part of her character. It was part of who she was, part of her backstory, part of who her FATHER was. So I wouldn't have agreed to change her name -- because it would have changed too much of her.

    Fortunately, I think my editor already knew that. When I asked her a few years later what it was about that book that made her buy it, her reply was, "Harley."