top of page
  • Writer's pictureTracey Lee

The Name Game


“Names are the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Dale Carnegie. 

A name is so important and I’m sure there are many reasons why.  It could be just about identity or something deeper about our connection with those who gave the name. It might be cultural. Geographical. Representative of an era. Does a name pay homage to the ancestors?  Or is a name’s value merely in being able to be singled out in conversation instead of being referred to as ‘hey you’?  Whatever the reason the combination of letters by which we are called is significant and requires great thought.

And because of the importance, I make of heavy weather of naming my own characters. Having been a teacher for millennia I’ve come across just about every name there is and I’ve often made associations between a name and behaviour. So it precludes the use of many of them. I’ve used the names of my friends…with varied success as I’ve struggled to convince several of them that I’ve just used their name, they are not the character. I’ve also struggled with the notion that a name should have a ring of authenticity and not sound like a mish-mash of Mills and Boon hero and rap singer. I like a name to sound authentic, solid and memorable.

So where to turn for names? Morbid as it might sound…cemeteries provide a world of ‘inspiration’. From the ancient to the newer gravestones beautiful and lyrical names find their way on to my character list. Hypatia, Adeline, Chester and Everett conjure sophistication and the grace of the distant past. More frequently used names such as Alice, Clara and Byron also top the list. For surnames I go to family trees or trade vehicles emblazoned with last names; occasionally lean heavily on the more common surnames of culture (Smith, Jones, Lee!!) The classics can be lent on for the more fanciful such as Desdemona or Ishmael. But it would be a form of cheating to use them as a writer.

I have not yet found myself eager to use the modern phenomenon of ‘making names up’ or the wildness of mad spelling. But I do occasionally delve into the lists of worse names ever to amuse myself. Some include: Ikea, Vader, Ricca-donna and Bourbon! Popular culture and alcohol? It would be hard to explain one’s parents’ decision to select such a handle. ‘Well we were in Ikea after watching Star Wars and mum suggested we go for a drink!’

The combination name or mash up also fills me with a kind of horror. VerJonica. Beberly and Jo-sam for example! Or the use of inanimate objects or corporations to attempt  a point of difference, thus we have: Rosary, Disney, Abercrombie, Spirit and Card. I note things like Thick and Plank rarely are used for names. But I might prefer them to the ‘let’s spell it with a twist' brethren who greedily overuse vowels or phonic blends willy-nilly – ergo we find wee ones named Allyzzabeth, Alivya, R’Chee and Airy-Anne. Or perhaps the ‘Kath and Kim’ enthusiasts who hear a word and think that it would make a nice name: Carrion, Maximum, Lupus, Beatitude or Whimsy! (The last one I actually like and may be used in upcoming writing!)

I think of the character names I have loved so much from my own reading. Atticus Finch and his daughter Scout, Sherlock Holmes, Holden Caulfield, Miss Marple, Edward Rochester and Jane Eyre, Winnie Louie, Mary Abacus, Bill Sykes and Oliver Twist, Jo March and the list goes on and on. I have loved them and hated them and all the while their names stay with me. It would seem then that the art of naming is important in literature as it is in life.

So I continue the search for character names that are beautiful, strong and of course memorable. Characters, whose names reflect traits that resonate with readers; names that are spoken with trepidation, respect, sadness or affection is the secret hope of all writers.

34 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page