Naming Names and Other Muse Misadventures

Computer sticking a tongue out
The muse be misbehaving

I confess.  I hate naming characters.


I’ve working on one short story this week (Story #2, about superheroes) and looking at doing two others.  The week started out trying to find names for Short Story #1 (a fantasy story).

The naming process involves looking at the setting and picking the names based on that.  So a secondary world fantasy is going to have names of a certain origin, and a contemporary story will have modern names.

Meaning?  Phht.

The INTP part of me has never understood writers who look for names based on meaning.

The reader me scratches her head.  How would the reader know the importance of it?  It’s not like I would see the name Mary and run to a baby book to look it up to see if I could figure out any hidden meaning that might lurk in the story.

But naming I must do, and even the muse concedes that they have to picked at some point…

Story #1 is a secondary world fantasy (which I optimistically thought I would write first, but muse had other ideas). I used to use a baby name book.  The problem is when people see me reading the book.

“When are you expecting?”

“Is it a boy or a girl?”


My process has always been to scan through the names and write down a handful of that I like until something clicks.

Muse nearly always tries to head for the Ks.  It really likes K names.  So it looks at some of the other names and goes, “I don’t like that name.”

So somehow the result of this is that I start the story without the name.  Muse is like “I don’t care,” so I wind up with XX for the main character–do you know how hard that it is to type?!

It won’t take very long before muse grudgingly realizes the character does need a name.  It does have an effect on how the character develops (the cool, nerdy stuff muse likes).

But muse wants to spend almost no time on it.

We both agree that surfing baby name sites is really annoying.  They usually have this tiny window where you scroll through the name while all these ads for baby products flash at me.  An ad with a cute baby pops up over my name searching, asking me if I want to sign up for a newsletter.

I’ve been known to hop over to the Navy website and grab last names from the admiral’s list.  It includes all the retirees, so it’s quite long and a diverse list.  First name?  If I’m at work and need a name, I open the newspaper and start looking through the writers.  This is hit or miss, given that most of the writers are men, so I’m missing out on half my characters.

So muse pops a placeholder name in the story, intending to change it later.

Sometimes that happens.

Sometimes the doesn’t.

And sometimes the placeholder name annoys muse, so it changes the name to another placeholder.  For the superhero story, I end up starting it in first person so I don’t have to deal with the name.

Except that I do.  The reader me always finds it annoying when a writer does first person and never mentions the character’s name.

Muse sighs and plops a nickname in it.

But that gets all manner of questions, like why the character has it.  And that’s not important to the story.

Muse sighs again and plops another name in.  Adds a last name from the newspaper.

I’ll probably change it again before the end of the story.

Or not.


8 thoughts on “Naming Names and Other Muse Misadventures

  1. Harvey Stanbrough April 19, 2018 / 8:16 am

    I commiserate. My characters often change names. One (the protagonist, no less) changed right in the middle of a series. Obits are great places to get names, and sometimes even whole stories when combined with What If.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda Maye Adams April 21, 2018 / 9:14 am

      I remember when I went to Las Vegas, I was writing down names from the obits as possible character names. Then I never used any of them and went back to my old habits!


  2. Peggy April 19, 2018 / 8:42 am

    Among my tools for names:

    1. the legal directory for my state. Mine is a few years out of date, but it has names of all licensed attorneys at the time, and we have a lot of them, so the book is fairly thick. Plus, sometimes the names of the law firms are amusing in themselves.

    2. For contemporary names, I look up the appropriate nation’s national football (soccer) team roster. Of course, some other sport could be used, but I have yet to find a country without a football/soccer team.

    For me, the sound or the feel of the name is more important than what it means. Bruce has a different feel than Clark, and again than Peter or Steve, for example.

    Once I’ve picked a name, it’s hard for me to let go of it – even if I suddenly realize that’s the fifth name I’ve picked that begins with D (or K – both of those get heavy rotation for some reason). No matter how much I tell the muse that David and Diana and Dan and Damaris can confuse the reader, the muse says, don’t care, I like ’em. Grr.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda Maye Adams April 21, 2018 / 9:13 am

      There must be something about the way the letter K sounds that makes it a draw. I’ve heard other writers say the same thing.


  3. Nita April 19, 2018 / 10:40 am

    Movie credits are my inspiration for names 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda Maye Adams April 21, 2018 / 9:12 am

      I’ve used the Internet Movie Database sometimes. The character name in Rogue God came from George Keymas, an actor who was active during the 1960s. I actually saw it in the credits years ago and the name stuck–and ran across it while looking for names.


  4. Pagadan April 19, 2018 / 11:07 pm

    I have a notebook with character and place names that I’ve gleaned over the years, including foreign names from the Olympics–and names from periodicals and elsewhere, even ads. (I change and combine them.) I’ve even come up with some from typos I made.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda Maye Adams April 21, 2018 / 9:10 am

      Typos are an interesting source for names. Oprah Winfrey’s name came from a typo.


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