Hearts Through History Romance Writers

How I come up with names for my characters

by | September 13, 2012 | 10 comments

    When I started to write Kentucky Green I had an idea of the time (1794) and place (Kentucky frontier) for the   setting as well as some vague plot ideas.  But the hero and heroine only become real to me when I find out, or give them their names. Part of the names came from my family history and part comes from my study of history.  Like they say, write what you know.

 For my hero’s back story (all the stuff you know about what made your character who and what they are at the start of the book) I gave him a Scottish grandfather, so his last name is McKenzie. Grandfather, as so many Scottish immigrants to America settled west of the Appalachians Mountains, where the land reminded them of the hill of Scotland.  Grandfather married a Shawnee Indian woman, so the hero’s father was a half-breed, so my hero is ¼ Indian, and therefore subject to some racial prejudices.  Looking at historical characters of the time, Daniel Boone stands out – not only was he a person active at the time and place I wanted to set my story, Boone was also noted as being much more open minded and known to treat people for who they were, not for their race.  So I imagined that my hero’s father and Daniel Boone went hunting together.  (my family history tells of  one of my great, great, however many greats grandfather used to go hunting with Daniel Boone.  So, if Boon treated my hero’s father well, so it was obvious that he would name his son after a friend, which was a common way to name at that time.  So my hero is Daniel Boone McKenzie.


Dan’s character is very pragmatic and taciturn (note to self: no more heroes who are reluctant to do dialogue!).  Therefore I wanted a heroine who will ‘lighten him up’.  April is optimistic and more lighthearted than Dan.  I know April as a name is not necessarily historically correct, but in my mind her parents named her this as sort of an inside joke as she was conceived in the month of April (hey, I’m making this story up so cut me a little historical slack).

 The villain’s name comes from the street name where a friend of mine lived – I liked the Wyck as sort of indicating his role as the villain.  Dan’s brother-in-law James ‘Scotty’ Murray came as a derivation of James Stuart, 1st Earl of Moray (c. 1531 – 1570)  that got corrupted into Murray through the centuries (what can I say, I’m a history teacher – my MA with a specialization in Tudor and Stuart England)

Minor characters are easier.  If they only need a name for a couple of pages, then the characters often end up with names of friends and neighbors.  Schultz – the neighbors across the street.  Dunlap – friends who had sons in Boy Scouts with our sons.  Same with the reverend’s name of David.  Matthew and Mark – two cousins of mine.

 Like I said, I put a lot of thought into the names of my main character, and go the easy route for the walk on characters.  So perhaps there is some truth in that bumper sticker that reads ‘Be Careful or You’ll End up in My Novel’.

 How do you decide on the names of the characters in your novels?


  1. Angelyn

    I don’t have any one method, but I do write down interesting names I come across once in awhile. I had to grin: ‘note to self: no more heroes who are reluctant to do dialogue.’ Snort!

    • Terry Irene Blain

      Yeah, no more strong, silent types who don’t have much to say. My next hero was raised with a lot if women around, so he was much easier to get to talk.

  2. Ella Quinn

    I have a source book, but many times my characters will come to me with names. I don’t find April at all off. Many, if not most of the names that have been recorded were from wealthy families. Lower class famlies, farmers in particular, used the names of flowers. I have a minor child named Tansey, which was popular during the period.

    • Terry Irene Blain

      Like my Dad said, call me anything you want but kate for dinner.

  3. Susan Macatee

    Great post! I used character naming sourcebooks, but also go online to see what names were popular during the historical period I’m writing in.

    • Terry Irene Blain

      I also have a book of popular names by time frame, but didn’t use it in this case.

  4. Sharla Rae

    I use name books too. I have one that goes by nationalities. But I alos go by personality. I know my characters sun sign well before I write him or her. I think naming characters is important and yet one of the most fun things about writing–like naming your babies. 🙂

  5. Terry Irene Blain

    Sharla Rae,
    I agree, the character’s name has to say something about their personality or background. You can’t just choose any name.

  6. Ally Broadfield

    My characters usually tell me their name as they form in my mind. Since I write historicals, I do check to make sure the name existed. With titled Regency characters, I always make sure to choose a title that didn’t actually exist. Your process is much more interesting!

  7. Terry Irene Blain

    Thanks! I really need my characters to have a name before I can write about them.



Share This