Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

What’s in a name?

The Famous Novelist Who Shall Remain Nameless

Actually, quite a bit. And that’s why I always put a lot of thought into the names of my characters. If you create a hero named Toby Hitler, you might have trouble attracting an enthusiastic readership. Likewise, if your protag has a bland name — Joe White — it might be hard for readers to get a real sense of him (unless that’s your intent).

In Town Father, I put my hero, Henry O’Farrell, in the midst of 300 women. It seemed only reasonable that each of those women should have her own name, so on page 99 of the paperback you’ll find a list of them. That’s right. A list of 300 distinct and individual names.

Boy, was that a challenge! And fun too.

What happened was, serendipitously, I was receiving a lot of junk email at the time from senders with interesting female names. I started collecting them. I had so many in my folder that I thought it would be a shame to waste them, so I decided to compile the best of them into my list. And when I came up just a tad short of 300, I turned to a tool every fiction writer should take advantage of:

A random name generator!

Go ahead. Check it out. Jot down some of the gems that pop out. And start to think of their particular stories.

It’s habit-forming, so exercise a little time discipline.

Here are a few to get you jazzed: Lynnell Hapuarachchi, Renaud Meszaros, Florinda Broughton, Nicolas Ney, Alberta Garron.

And here a few from my forthcoming novel (though I don’t think I used a generator for these): Sally Pavlou, Clive Bridle, Mrs. Vierundfünfzig, Zack Mantic, Iona Carr.

Now run along and cast your next novel!

16 comments on “What’s in a name?

  1. The Opening Sentence
    May 6, 2016

    One of the difficulties of naming older characters is that the name should be appropriate for the time. For older foreign names I always turn to the World Cup and the Olympics to find out what Hungarian men might have been named in the 1950s, or the names given to Swedish women born in 1962. Avoids the embarrassment of eighty year old English characters called Britney and Rihanna!

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 6, 2016

      Wow, I love that! Of course, it’s crucial that you get the era right. Imagine a novel in 2100 naming a character from 1998 “Zorg.” No way!

  2. John W. Howell
    May 6, 2016

    I was pleasantly surprised when I cam on the names and meant to mention it in my review but forgot. Interesting.

  3. Adrienne Morris
    May 6, 2016

    I like using the US census records for the 19th century. 🙂

  4. ericjbaker
    May 6, 2016

    I change character names multiple times until I find the one I like, even after the piece is finished(ish). Thank you, Bill Gates, for “Find and Replace.”

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 6, 2016

      I once changed a character’s name from Joe to Zack. Used find and replace. Found, buried in the text, a reference to a “G.I. Zack.”


      • ericjbaker
        May 6, 2016

        I had a character named “Louis” that I decided worked better as a Japanese guy named Hiroshi. Find, replace, and forget… that there are several mentions of Louisiana in the piece. Welcome to Hiroshiiana, kids.

      • Kevin Brennan
        May 7, 2016

        Love it! I’d like to read a book about dystopian Hiroshiiana.

  5. Audrey Driscoll
    May 6, 2016

    For names in ethnic groups I’m unfamiliar with, I used to do searches in the Library of Congress’s catalogue, such as Hungary–History. Then I’d select something euphonious from the authors in the results.

  6. 1WriteWay
    May 11, 2016

    I’ve heard that obituaries are good places to mine names as well.

    • Kevin Brennan
      May 12, 2016

      Great idea. I’ve used phone books too. Back when there were phone books!

      • 1WriteWay
        May 12, 2016

        Omg, I remember those things. And you lived in a big enough town, you have book for the “white pages” and another for the “yellow pages.” I feel so old.

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This entry was posted on May 6, 2016 by in Writing and tagged , .
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