NAME CALLING by Cynthia Ruchti

The phone
conversation with my editor went something like this.
Me: Teensy
problem. Did you notice that my main character in All My Belongings (releasing in 2015) has a name similar to one of
my main characters in When the Morning Glory
(April 2013 release)?
Editor: Yes.
About that…
Me: Probably not
the smartest idea.
Me: But it’s
really, really important that the All My
character have that first name.
Editor: I can
see why.
Me: So, can I keep
Editor: You
sound like you’re clutching a stray puppy when you ask that.
Me: Can I?
Editor: Can you
at least spell it differently?
Me: Done.
Thanks. (click)
Do readers know
how much time novelists spend deciding on names for our characters?
We consider all
the traditional rationale:
  • Does
    the name fit the era in which the character lived/lives?
  • Does
    it fit the socio-economic dynamic of the character and his or her family?
  • Does
    it fit the character’s personality? Sometimes there’s a reason for the district
    judge or the serial killer to be named Buffy or Pinky. Most often, that’s a bad
  • Is
    it easy and intuitive for a reader to pronounce? I’ve embarrassed myself more
    than once mispronouncing Lucado and Omartian.
  • Does
    it fit the character’s physical appearance? Chase the hunky EMT fits a lot
    better than Chase the rail-thin CPA. No offense to CPAs.
  • Is
    it clearly distinguishable from other character names in the book or
    confusingly similar?
  • Is
    it too cute/groan-producing? Ima Bedwedder? Sergeant Topper Copper?
  • If
    character one marries character two, will the new last name work with the first
  • Is
    it a name with a less-than-desirable connotation?
  • What’s
    the ethnic background of the name? Does that fit my character?
  • What’s
    the biblical or traditional meaning of that name? Is that in keeping with the
    character I’ve created?
  • Does
    the name have another layer of meaning beyond what the reader sees on the
    surface? I gave my character Becky from When
    the Morning Glory Blooms
    the simple last name Trundle. Only after I’d
    landed on that name did I see the correlation between the way she kept those
    she loved “trundled” to her heart as if they lay on a bed that slid out from
    underneath hers.

I’ve chosen
names from cereal boxes and newspaper headlines, from phone books and family albums,
from hospital website photos of newborns and Baby Name books, from the
obituaries… How does it sound to the ear? Does the name soothe or grate? Which
fits better with the character I’m writing? Is it a strong-sounding name? A
regal name? A girl-next-door name?
Is the name
overused in contemporary fiction or distinct? How does the rhythm of the first
and last name flow? Will they make a reader’s mind tongue-tied?
Another list of
considerations keeps a writer searching for the perfect name. 
  • My
    husband knew someone by that name once. He’ll never let me get away with memorializing
    that teacher in print.
  •  Ooh!
    Almost missed that. I named the crabby mother-in-law Lorraine. Pretty sure Aunt
    Lorraine won’t appreciate the inference.
  • Did
    I know that name is Yiddish for ____________? No! Oops. Close one.
  • Someone
    by that name is in the headlines a lot lately…and not in a positive light.
    Cross off another possibility.

New parents
sometimes spend the entire nine months before delivery contemplating the
perfect name for their baby. Writers don’t have that much time. And we have to
decide on perfect names for a whole cast of characters, like having to name two
sets of octuplets! Wait! They need middle names, too?
So much to
consider when bestowing a name on a character. Scout. Madeline. Forrest Gump.
Anne with an E.
A project in
proposal form right now has a character who insists her name is Boozy
Unfortunate. I hope my editor lets me keep her.
Questions for
: Have you made or almost made a faux pas when naming a character? Looking
back on books you’ve read or written, what favorite character name comes to
Ruchti is an author and speaker who tells stories of
Hope-that-glows-in-the-dark through her novels, novellas, nonfiction, and
through speaking engagements for women’s groups and writers’ events. Her latest
novel—When the Morning Glory Blooms—and its characters fit the names given to
them. You can learn more about that book or the others Cynthia has written
through her website
or by connecting through