Monday, February 27, 2012


Shakespeare’s immortal words from ROMEO AND JULIET: What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

How much time does a writer spend deciding on a character’s name? Is it as tough as naming a child? Did JK Rowling consider other names for Harry Potter? Claude? Or Marvin? Now that we know Harry, can we imagine him by any other name?

I’ve been told not to dwell too long on a name because an editor might change it anyway. For me, there’s more to it than that. If I want to do justice to a character’s story, I need to get inside his head, and the right name can make that easier.

In one of my historical fiction novels, my protagonist’s family history is integral to the plot. Her ancestors have lived in West Virginia since it was part of the Virginia colony. The family name had to be appropriate to the time and place. And I knew it would help my writing if the name evoked something in me.

The girl’s grandpa had a brother who died in battle, and Grandpa is a key character in the story. When I thought about Grandpa and his brother, I remembered a pair of brothers who lived nearby when I was a kid, Jimmy and Sammy Kent.

Jimmy was older, and Sammy followed him everywhere. Jimmy often tried to ditch Sammy, especially when girls were around. Once, as Jimmy hurried up the street, trying to outdistance his brother, Sammy fell and skinned his knee. Jimmy was beside his brother in an instant, comforting him. He took Sammy’s hand and led him home to take care of the injury. I didn’t know these brothers well, but that image remained with me.
So I gave Grandpa in my story Jimmy & Sammy’s last name. It made him real to me, and I was more able to believe in the brothers’ relationship. Now that it’s written, I wouldn’t mind if an editor wanted to change the name. It already served its purpose.

Kathy Cannon Wiechman


  1. Some of my favorite character names: Scout & Atticus Finch, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Hannibal Lecter, Moby Dick, Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara. In my current manuscript, the antagonist is a perpetual bad presence hanging around the MC and making his life miserable. I've named him Loomis.

  2. Thanks for sharing a little of your character's name! Love the history. Names can be so immediately evocative for a reader. Not that all names should draw a lot of attention, but they can do a lot to create a mood and personality right away.

    1. You're so right. Sometimes I find myself changing my character's name midstream because I just hadn't made the right connection yet.

  3. If only my name WERE Flint Badass!