Thursday, October 20, 2011

Guest Author Pamela D. Rice: What's In A Name?

Pamela D. Rice is an author at Peace In The Storm Publishing. Her debut novel, The Sunday Morning Wife, was nominated for Breakout Author of the Year by the African American Literary Awards Show in 2010. She has also enjoyed a consistent place in the top ten on the Black Christian News Network Independent Publishers list for Christian Fiction. Her next novel, The Monday Night Mistress, is due late winter. In her spare time, Pamela enjoys reading, spending time with her family, and exploring other cultures.

What's In A Name? Choosing Your Characters Wisely

When readers pick up a book, the first thing most of them notice is the book cover. The next thing they look at is the synopsis and the names of the characters. Contrary to popular belief, both play a part in the reader purchasing the book.

For instance, a reader loves to read Historical Fiction. They pick up a book with a great cover, depicting a female runaway slave. They excitedly turn the book over to read the synopsis, and the main characters name is Ciara. The book is placed back on the shelf, and the reader continues to peruse the book shelves. The writer missed a great opportunity for purchase by placing a modern name in Historical Fiction. Choosing a name that is appropriate for the era which you are in is vitally important.

Another faux pas in choosing names is not researching the meanings of the names when choosing characters. For example, a writer completes an Inspirational Fiction novel in which the main character Morana overcomes many obstacles by speaking life and believing God to be her sole deliverer. Sounds good doesn’t it? Except the name Morana means death. Or, what about a main character named Mortimer, who vows to keep baptizing parishioners in spite of a new law banning baptism? Mortimer is on a mission, except his name means Dead Sea. How’s that for an irony? You should always do your research and choose names that match your characters.

In addition, make the names of your characters easy to pronounce. The reader should not have to stop reading the story to decipher a name. The characters names should roll off their tongues as they read. Names like La'Quishraniqua, and De’Trontavarius, are hard to pronounce, and the reader will spend more time trying to decide on the correct pronunciation when they should be reading and enjoying the story. (It is not my intention to poke fun at anyone’s name. The above names are used for illustrative points only).

Writers have many resources to choose from when seeking names for characters. I have prepared a small list as follows:

Internet - The internet has a plethora of names to choose from. Google “African-American names, popular names, baby names”, etc.

Library - The historical section in the library offers a great place to research names.

Movie Credits - You will find interesting names if you wait a few minutes after the movie is over. The people behind the scenes often have some very fascinating names.

Genealogy searches - When searching your family tree, you may find suitable names for your characters.

Old church records - If you have access to historical church records, you are sure to find some unique names.

Graveyards - Although it sounds morbid, graveyards offer a great wealth of names. If you need a strong name for a male character, a trip to a graveyard would find you a name like Judson Prelo Foster, who happens to be my grandfather. He was as imposing as his name sounds.

Finally, have fun. Choosing a name, while important, should never become an arduous task. If you are having problems choosing a name for a main character, insert your own name until you find one. Never let a name keep you from writing a fantastic story that is waiting to be told. You could be holding the next New York Times Bestseller. Visit Pamela at


G. B. Miller said...

The small problem I have when it comes to choosing names, is to make sure that the name blends nicely with the character I'm writing about.

Using certain names, at least for me, conjurs up certain images connected with those names, so I find that just as important to choose my names wisely.

Lynn Emery said...

Nice to meet you! Thanks for all the ideas. Will help me remember not to unconciously get stuck on "L" or "J" names. I found myself doing that, and now have to watch out for that along with all the other balls we authors juggle while writing. :-)

Charles Gramlich said...

Good points. I have used cemeteries to get names for characters, mixing and matching from a variety of tombstones. If you live in a place like New Orleans, with so many old cemeteries you can get all different kinds of time periods.

Liane Spicer said...

Welcome, Pamela! I always agonize over characters' names; they're essential to my sense of who the characters are. I have to get them properly christened before I can get into their heads and tell their stories.

I really like the graveyard idea. I went searching for my great-grandmother's grave last year and it was astonishing to find that so many of the names from just a few generations back have all but dropped out of common use.