Monday, February 21, 2011

Favorite Character Names: "Getting A Handle On Naming Characters"

"Gettting A Handle on Naming Characters" is the title of an interesting bit posted on The Guardian newspaper blog by Ben Meyers recently. He talks about the importance of the right name for a fictional character and the idea of a character 'growing' into a name.

This got me thinking about the more successful character names. What works for you as a character name? I suppose for everyone it's a bit different. I have been known, I confess, to stop reading a series of books because the main character's name was just such a turn-off. Won't say what, won't say who and won't say why - it's my secret to keep. (And yet I KNOW the books are very good and I'm probably missing out. One of these days I'll have to get over this.)

So with my penchant for lists alive and well and ready, at any moment, to spring into action, I thought I'd list some 20 or so character names I've always liked.
  • Odd Thomas named by Dean Koontz.
  • Hondo named by Louis L'Amour
  • Jack Reacher named by Lee Child
  • Atticus Finch named by Harper Lee
  • Marianne Dashwood named by Jane Austen
  • Elvis Cole and Joe Pike named by Robert Crais
  • Flavia de Luce named by Alan Bradley
  • Captain Hook named by J.M. Barrie
  • Spenser named by Robert Parker
  • Armand Gamache named by Louise Perry
  • Dodsworth named by Sinclair Lewis
  • Hercule Poirot named by Agatha Christie
  • Jane Marple named by Agatha Christie
  • Achille Poirot named by Agatha Christie
  • Peter Blood named by Rafael Sabatini
  • Scaramouche named by Rafael Sabatini
  • Arkady Renko named by Martin Cruz Smith
  • Elizabeth Bennett named by Jane Austen
  • Fitzwilliam Darcy named by Jane Austen
  • Jack Twist named by Annie Proulx
  • Jane Eyre named by Charlotte Bronte
  • Sam Spade named by Dashiell Hammett
  • Chet and Bernie named by Spencer Quinn
  • Ben Quick named by William Faulkner
  • Dido Twite named by Joan Aiken
  • Richard Jury named by Martha Grimes (though I've always hated the name of his best friend Melrose Plant - I mean, really.)
  • Amelia Peabody named by Elizabeth Peters
  • Samuel Grapearbor named by Jordan Ellenberg
  • Harry Potter named by J.K. Rowling
  • The Great Gildersleeve named by I don't know who.
  • Sherlock Holmes named by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Mycroft Holmes named by Arthur Conan Doyle
  • Sebastian Flyte named by Evelyn Waugh
  • Winnie the Pooh named by A.A. Milne
Well, I'd better stop for now. But it occurs to me looking at this list that I like both colorful, flavorful names and names that are short, tough and sound good spoken aloud. AND that most of these are male names. Hmmm. Well, I do seem to prefer male protagonists, no question.

Of course the names must have something to do with the character - don't you think? A good name will, thereafter, invoke the character instantly and form a picture in the imagination. I suppose, a good character name is a sort of 'brand.' It's not easy to trifle with brands. Most of them are permanent.

Off the top of your head, can you think of character names you've liked and remembered over the years?


  1. I love this post, Yvette. I find (with my own writing) that I spend SO much time looking for the perfect name that I forget to write! Haha. It really is SO important though, isn't it? Glad I have founda kindred spirit in this area.

    I adore the name Flavia de Luce (and the character by the way). I just finished The Weird Sisters and the girls in it are named after Shakespeare characters. He had an penchant for the interesting names, didn't he?

  2. Hi Wallace: Thanks! LOVE your name, by the way. :)

    THE WEIRD SISTERS is moving higher and higher up on my list, thanks to your enthusiasm.

    Names are often the clue to a character, don't you think?

  3. I have always loved these names:

    Nick & Nora Charles - Dashiell Hammett

    Perry Mason - Erle Stanley Gardner

    Vanyel Ashkevron - Mercedes Lackey

    Dagny Taggart and John Galt - Ayn Rand

    I won't even go into all the movie/TV show names like...Buffy Summers or Jack Harkness.

  4. Ryan beat me to it! I was going to nominate Nick and Nora Charles - the assonance of the N's is very pleasing, and tells us something about their mutuality.

    How about Lew Archer? The casualness of the first name nicely balanced by the classical associations of the surname. Oh, and of course, "Archer" recalls Sam Spade's doomed partner, Miles Archer! So disappointing that they changed the character's surname to the more prosaic "Harper" in the Paul Newman films...

  5. Ryan: Nick and Nora - yes! Perry Mason I always found "Perry" to be a little wishy washy but then I got used to it and now I love it.

    John Galt. Good strong name. But I hate the opening of the novel: Who is John Galt. My response has always been: Who cares?
    Can't help it. Ha.

    Well, I tried to keep to books. We can do movies and tv another day. How's that?

    Luke Skywalker?

  6. Nicolas: N&N - for sure. Oh Archer is the better name (over Harper), no question. Even the idea of an 'archer' is tough and romantic. Archers were very strong, capable men.

    Lew Archer is a good name, suitable for the character, but maybe not a name that lingers in the imagination?

    Most of my list is really just off the top of my head.

    I know I forgot a lot of good ones. :)

  7. I love ethnic and unusal names ..Nicholas and Alexandria, Anna Karenina, Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights, Pippi Longstocking, any name from a William Faulkner novel :)


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