The Birth of a Character Name

There are a lot of ways to name fictional characters.  I know some writers who have names just “come” to them or choose a name because it feels right.  Some are named after real life people, or versions of them.  Other character names are chosen because of their meaning or historical significance.  Whatever the reason (and I’ve named characters for every reason listed above) it’s never been random.

A friend recently pointed out to me that the character of “Kate” in Tracing Shadows is the same age as a mutual friend of the same name.  Now, there’s nothing about the character that’s similar except the age and name; but I realized, it made me feel a little uncomfortable, and I hoped that my friend didn’t think it had been deliberate. (Well, it was deliberate, as you’ll read, but not for any reasons relating to her.)

I started mentally reviewing all the reasons I had chosen to name that character “Kate” and in the end, the convoluted process made me laugh so much, I thought I’d share.

The birth of a character name:

“Kate” is a twenty-four year old photographer and the main character in my contemporary romance.  Now, it’scontemporary, so I needed something that would have been popular and relatively common for a girl born in 1985.  That’s my starting point.

Moving past that, I knew I needed a name that could be Irish, but wasn’t obviously so.  The character’s mom is Irish, but she’s American, so I didn’t want something that stood out as unusual.  Part of her character is that she had a conventional middle class childhood, so I narrowed it down a bit more.

In addition to that, names are important in this story, as are nicknames, and I knew I needed a name that could have not just two, but three forms: a formal name, a shortened version (a nickname), and an endearment. (NB: Always note what one character calls another in my stories. It’s never random.) That narrowed it down a lot.

In the end, the character’s name is Kaitlyn (which her mom and her agent use), Kate (which she uses for herself), and Katie (which her love interest uses most.)

Added to that, the name just has to “fit” the character.  There’s no formula you can use, it just has to feel right, kind of like naming a child.  This fit and feel is different for everyone because we all have different feelings about names.  There’s no hard and fast naming rules, you just have to find your own way.

Thanks for reading,


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