After yesterday’s seriousness, I think it is time again for some writing “fun stuff.” I will let you in on a few things you did not know:

[From Instagram.]

Seeing her post, the names issue caught my attention. She explains further in the caption:

Isn’t it ironic? For writers: How do you pick names for your characters? For me, I use a combination of names, lists of things I’ve seen or done lately, the name of one of the characters in the most recent book I read or movie I’ve seen.

I decided I wanted to put in my “two cents”:

[From Instagram, June 24, 2020.]

As I wrote in that comment, there are a variety of reasons and sourcings for them. Some are just a bit of lightheartedness too really. I thought about it and here are some of my most prominent characters and from where their first names come:

“Béatrice”: A relatively popular name given to French girls born until the 1980s. I knew one by that name and felt it fit the period – the 1990s – of the novel. It is not as common a name for newborns in the 21st century.

“Valérie”: “Her” name is “borrowed” from a French woman I knew, and I decided it really best fit in the book the French-Lebanese woman who is based partly on a woman I knew of a similar mixed heritage. (If you can follow that.)

“Edward”: That was a common name for boys born in the British American colonies and the new United States in the 1700s. Well reflective of the era and so, I thought, useful for a new major character.

[Parish church, Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. Photo by me, October 2019.]

“Marie-Thérèse”: In early 2016, trying to settle on a name for the French woman major character – so she would be seriously important – in Conventions: The Garden At Paris, I was struggling until I saw the name in an online history that included a rural French parish’s listing of female baptisms or births (I don’t now remember exactly which) that occurred in some year in the middle of the 1700s. It could not get more “authentic” than that for a novel starting in “1787,” I had thought. I also liked the impression the name conveyed for “she” I was trying to write in those 1700s.


[Excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris. On Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

…is, as you see, pronounced “Caroleena” and I try there to make that clear. Quite a few girls were given that name in England (particularly in the gentry) in the middle of the 1700s and it was usually pronounced that way. She was going to be the major English woman character, so I really wanted above all to get her name “right.” The name is still around today, although it is not nearly as common now as it was 250 years ago.

“James”: That is my Confirmation name. I used it for the main male character in my first novel mostly because I was dissatisfied with the original name I had been using. My first very partial drafts have the previous name, and I am pleased I changed it. I had thought: “Hey, it was good enough for my Confirmation name, so why not for the character?”

“Robert”: My first name. It was also a common name for boys in the British American colonies in the middle of the 1700s, so I had again thought: “Why not use the name for the Conventions main male character?” It remained a popular name for boys in the United States well into the 1970s. (“Bob” and “Bobby” are variations of it.) It has fallen off in popularity in recent decades… supplanted more and more it seems by all of the newborn 1990s and early 2000s “Tylers” and “Dylans” and “Noahs” now out there, I guess. LOL!

“Benjamin”: The name of one of my grandfathers. It was another name that was also relatively unsurprising in the British American colonies of the 1700s. (Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Rush, etc.) I wanted to see that grandfather’s name in a novel.

“Lucy”: The Anglicized real name she always used, and which I always knew her by, of the Italian real first name of one my grandmothers. It was actually “Luciana.” In fact I did not know it was Anglicized until my mother told me when I was in my mid-teens. I believed the grandmother portrayed in my first novel HAD to have her name.

“Ana”: I “borrowed” “her” first name from a Spanish woman on current day social media. (Oh, yes, be careful: I do pay attention to social media. LOL!) “She” first appears in Tomorrow The Grace. The name was common too in Spain in the 1770s, when the character had been born in Spanish empire South America. Obviously, it is still in use today.

“Isabelle” has probably the most “fun” background of them all:

…Fooled you! No, it does NOT come from Isabelle Adjani. Nor does it come from anyone else who is similarly high profile.

I had known a French woman by that name. However, she is not the primary source for it either. But her existence did “reinforce” the name’s “appropriateness” to me.

[Looking out on British Airways planes, from Heathrow Airport Terminal 5, July 2019. Photo by me.]

It came mostly from a British Airways French flight attendant.

We were traveling (remember the old days, when we used to fly on planes?) in a quiet business class cabin (on an Avios points “freebie”) in late 2012 while I was also in the midst of starting my first novel and I had not yet settled on the primary French woman character’s name. The flight attendant was outgoing and aside from her accent her English was close to perfect. At one point, obviously feeling somewhat “unpressured,” she brought over hot chocolate chip cookies – which will ALWAYS impress me. LOL! We chatted some during the flight a couple of times too.

That may have been my biggest “Ah Ha!” moment of all with a name. It was, I felt, perfect. So I “borrowed” her name and “Isabelle” became the novel’s main woman character. 🙂

Yep, from where names… and characters… may come, eh.

Hope you are having a good day, wherever you are. 🙂

3 thoughts on “ The Names ”

  1. Lol, I just caught up on your posts! It’s so true, and I know you’ve said it even prior to this post. We use our own experiences and the people we know in our writing. Why wouldn’t we? After all, Wilde said, “poets and painters have taught the loveliness of such effects…They did not exist till Art had invented them.” Not that I consider my writing art! Must confess though, the closer I come to actual publication, the more nervous I get about certain topics and certain people I’ve written about!

    Regarding character names, being a romantic, I’ve always chosen wildly inappropriate and dramatic names for my characters in my sad attempts at fiction. Even worse, you would have had quite the chuckle over the list of names I out together for the birth of my daughter. Let’s just say she should be grateful I wasn’t the only one who had a say. 🙂

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    1. Your tweet made me chuckle, so I had to use it. Writing stuff like this can make us nervous about topics and people – “What are you talking about? That isn’t you.”… you can respond even if you know it is a little at least. One of the tough things is not to go over the top with names either. There is a line beyond which we cross into “silly” and we have to remember the reader needs to be able to follow along and remember who is who. Maybe that’s why I don’t get so much current sci-fi. I can’t tell the difference between “Tenia,” “Sonaina,” “Palia,” and “Morgana.” LOL!

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      1. I’m definitely “silly” with the names, lol. In fact, during a workshop years ago, the name of my protagonist was so silly, the workshop facilitator had to tell me that I had to pick a spelling. I had spelled the name three different ways throughout the piece! 😂

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