Sunday, October 15, 2017

What's in a Name (How to Name Characters) by Lynne Marie

A character's name is a very important aspect of their personality. While a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a character who is "cool," would not be named Horace or Bertha. Likewise,  a character who is boring wouldn't be named Lexi or Jake. So choosing a name is a very important part of writing your story.

A popular method of finding names is by pouring over a baby name book or a baby name finder online, but there are other ways to find perfect names for your characters.

In my first book, Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten (Scholastic, 2011), my main character was named after my pet hedgehog, Apollo Nike, who I called Spike as a nickname. I was aware that many editors don't want many named characters in a picture book, so with the except of a few main characters (Sheldon the Turtle, Wart the Frog, Peek-a-boo the Ostrich, Magoo the Mole), I gave the others names like Camel and Crocodile, Zebra and Rabbit, and Lion and Elephant. Surprisingly, my then-editor at Scholastic wanted me to name all the players, so Camel became Humphrey, Crocodile became Chomp, Zebra became Stripes, Rabbit became Hopper, Lion became King and Elephant became Peanut.

My next book features Spike's friends, including Wade the Flamingo, Hoot the Owl, Sticks the Beaver, and again, Hopper the Rabbit.

Obviously all these names were inspired by something connected with the character (an identifiable feature or action). Because of that, they fit well, and would be easy for a preschool/kindergarten aged child to remember and associate with the animal.

While the above represent some of my simpler animal names, I often do a lot of research before choosing. For example Hazel Mouse from my American Pie manuscript, is named for an actual species of mouse. Harry the Turkey from my Fowl Humor manuscript is named for one of the Presidents who actually pardoned turkeys on Thanksgiving. Lioness, a character in my Borrowing Bosley manuscript, is named for a real Guide Dog. Marilyn Moo-nroe, in my Moo-vie Star, is named for the actress that inspired her. I've also named characters from a pre-fix, root or suffix in their scientific name.

Some names are inspired by rhyme, like Fancy Nancy and Clark the Shark, Others, like Princess Peepers by Pam Calvert, Boris and Bella by Carolyn Crimi, and Punxsutawney Phyllis by Susanna Hill, and my own Slow Down, Sylvia Sloth, show consonance at play.

So here's a quick list of ways to name characters:

               1. Baby Name Book or Online Baby Name Finder
               2. Derivation of Scientific Animal Name
               3. Made up name of fun sounds like Gogi

When it comes to naming a character there is no real right or wrong way, as long as the name fits. I hope that whether though rhyme, research or reading the baby name book -- you enjoy the name game!

Lynne Marie is the author of Hedgehog Goes to Kindergarten - illustrated by Anne Kennedy (Scholastic, 2011), Hedgehog's 100th Day of School – illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Scholastic, January 2017), The Star of the Christmas Play -- illustrated by Lorna Hussey (Sparkhouse Family, 2018) and Moldilocks and the 3 Scares (Sterling, Pending). Her stories, poems, and folk tales have appeared in many magazine markets, including Family Fun, Highlights, High Five, Spider, Baby Bug and more. She is an on-staff writer for Jon and Laura Bard's Children's Book Insider and a book reviewer, as well as a 2016 and 2017 Cybils Award panelist. She is a former New Yorker who now lives a simpler life on a lake in South Florida with her daughter and several resident water birds. You can learn more about her at

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  1. Fun to learn the background of some of your names. Who knew Hazel was a mouse species? Making Hazel a maid would add a touch of humor for the adult reader (of a certain age). :)

    1. Just found this and am so happy to see you here, dear Mary! And of course, I know Hazel -- I used to watch that show as a child so there was a smattering of that nostalgia too!

  2. LOL, I guess I am "of a certain age," @Mary, as I agree! I remember that show very well! Thanks for stopping by My Word Playground.