Coming up with the names for my characters is always an issue for me. It takes me ages and is often dependent on how I feel about any person with that name that I’ve met in the past. I’m always indecisive about the ones I choose for my characters and during a first draft they can change several times, especially as characters develop.

So this morning I went on a research trip and spent a pleasant hour in the churchyard, before it got too hot, photographing gravestones. It was for an idea I’ve had about names. I thought for this series I might add in a bit of local colour, hence my journey. Although I shall say at the outset none of my storylines are set in my village, nor are any of the characters based on real people, living or dead.

It didn’t go quite the way I thought though. I concentrated on the older gravestones to put plenty of distance by way of years between my stories and the dear departed and therefore ended up with a lot of names from another age. Lovely names but not exactly contemporary. Such as…

The magnificently named Agnes Ella Ives

There are still plenty to choose from though and I can see a few making it into my stories. It will be interesting to see if anyone local notices. As my tales are a little darker this time I also want to be careful not to besmirch anyone’s family, however far in the past the name comes from.

There’s a saying here that you’re not considered a local until you have three generations in the churchyard, so descendants are still around and I enjoyed spotting the family names.

A wonderful lady in the village, always known to me as Mrs Pashler, once told me they had the whole front row, and sure enough there they were lined up along the top of the wall. In fact they had several rows.

The other thing I’ve done is start a list of the names I’m using, so I don’t end up with several starting with the same letter, very common, or that rhyme – I’ve already spotted a Freddie and Teddy… duh! Considering how many names there are out there it’s amazing how often I gravitate towards the same ones, time and again.

This list should also help me keep track of my characters over the several books in the series. My memory is notoriously shocking so I need all the help I can get.

I love character names, particularly those chosen by other authors that always seem to be much better than anything I come up with. Although it might just be that by the time I’ve finished a book mine feel stale while those in other stories are fresh and lovely. I particularly enjoy extravagant names, such as those dreamed up in the books by Carol Hedges or indeed the tales set around Hogwarts, but time and place come into those choices. If I were to choose something similar it would look completely out of place in my contemporary village setting.

Anyway now armed with many more names I shall probably go and change all the ones I already had, but hey ho, that’s par for the course.


Can you tell me any of your favourite character names from books you’ve read? Or, how do you come up with your names? And keep track of them? I’m keen to hear!

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16 Responses to What’s in a name? Character names and churchyards #MondayBlogs #amwriting
  1. That’s a very creative way to find names! I usually decide what year my characters were born, then look at online lists of popular names for that year. Sometimes I like to also have the meaning of a name fit the character.

    • I like the idea of looking at popular list names and also choosing by meaning of name. That would be particularly good for a main character I think, it helps to build that character. Thanks so much for reading and commenting.

  2. I do despair at books with characters who have names which are similar, or start with the same letter or are unpronounceable. I have just finished a book set in Italy, I already had trouble with some of the names, then it introduced a lot of characters and two of the main ones both had a name beginning with the letter O, neither of which I could get my tongue around. They became faceless cut outs to me as I continued to read.

    • I feel the same way, Rosie. That’s why I’m so indecisive I think. I’m trying not to add too many characters but in a series that’s based in a village that’s not going to be easy. Still I have my list of names now so what could possible go wrong

  3. Great way to find names, Georgia! I might steal it from you, particularly as it would be most appropriate for my books, being genealogy inspired. Funnily enough, I did once choose a character name which I came across while browsing Buckland-in-the-Moor’s churchyard on Dartmoor. I remembered it immediately I read your post! The name was Chlorinda and I think I used it in a short story.
    Usually, for main character first names, I browse the popular name lists for the year the character would have been born and then look through an old telephone directory for their surname (kept specifically for the purpose). Though if I can choose something which has significance to the storyline, I like to. One of my books’ has a mystery which has a connection back to the 18th century. An article in a Family History magazine listed Rohesia as a popular name at that time. I’d never heard of it but thought it was nicely unusual so I used it in the book.
    For minor characters I tend to look up at the book shelf above my desk and create a combination of authors’ names. I try to ensure my character names aren’t similar and don’t start with the same letter. However, on more than one occasion I’ve chosen a name, written loads, only realising later that I’d already got a character with the same initial and then have to change it and get to know that character all over again! Amazing how these “people” become so defined by their made-up names in our heads!

    • All really interesting, Wendy. Clearly researching popular names from when our characters were born is the thing to do, but the thing I’ve never done! You’ve listed two names in your comment there that I’ve never heard of so it shows just how many are out there. I noticed recently that rarely does a day go past when I don’t hear a new surname. I completely understand what you’re saying about the process of getting to know the character all over again if you change their name. When I wrote Parallel Lies, that didn’t start coming together until I renamed my main character, once that happened it all fell into place. Weird.

  4. I started a names list too, when I realised I had Jenny in my first book and Jennifer in the second. The list stopped me in time from having Frank and Frankie – not in the same book, but still… The trick is to add your names to the list before you get properly started with the book, because changing someone’s name halfway through is murder.

    • I think it was something you posted that made me start the list, Linda. So thank you! You’re quite right that I should choose the lists beforehand but I think this is a problem with writing like I do – as I start to get to know the character and they develop I then decide they are not a Daisy after all. 😀

  5. Ella Ives sounds very contemporary.

  6. On the other hand some authors use names deliberately similar like Dupont and Dupond in Herge’s adventures of Tintin!
    As an aside Dupont and Dupond are depicted on one of the snake stones on the church wall.

  7. So far, the names I use have just come to me. No clue as to where. Except for the book I just finished that is, because there is a family of characters from Somalia and I wanted the names to mean particular things. Those I researched.

    Today, a funny thing happened. My hubs reads the local paper and it has a celebrity birthday thing. He says the names and I guess their ages. He gave me one while I was making lunch and I didn’t know the person. But the first name stuck with me. Then he immediately told me of a school they are renaming because of the person’s racist past. His last name stuck with me. My brain combined them and voila, I have the name of the bad guy in my new thriller.

    As for keeping track of them, it’s never occurred to me. I will start now.

    • Thanks Jeanne. My names generally come to me too, but I think if I put more thought into them at the beginning it would avoid me changing them later on. I like how you came up with the name of your next bad guy. Good luck with your list, I’m not sure I can face going back through my previous books to add to this so it might be something I only do going forward.


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