Creating realistic characters requires that they have strong names unique to them. I usually associate a name with a character early in the creation process even if I decide to change the name later, which I often do. I’m not one to name characters after personality or physical traits though often I unconsciously do just that. A notable instance is Alyssa in Rebecca Too, who’s a distance runner and is injured in a car accident. She goes from being a Walker to a Caine.
Alyssa is also an example of reusing a name from another work. In my Long-Timer works, I have Alison Stepney and when I created the play Rebecca, Too, I named the lead character Alison. When I began revising the play, I searched online resources for a good equivalent and found Alyssa. I have since found that this is a variation on the name of the original ruler of Carthage, making it a good choice for this character, whose father came up with the name.
I typically like to use names that have some sort of meaning to me, so frequently, I’ll use names from my family’s history, such as Emily, Amanda, or David. Since I’ve researched my family’s history, I have a wide variety of names at my disposal from which to choose. One of my signatures, is hiding details about my family or past in my work, either with names or birth dates. I have used Nathaniel, Charles, and James, which show up in my family for several generations.
A problem I frequently encounter is giving characters names with a limited number of letters. For instance, I seem to have an over abundance of characters whose names begin with “r” including Regan, Rosalind, Rhiannon, Rebecca, Rachel, and Roscoe. I also have more than enough family names starting with “s” like Savage, Stepney, and Sanger. I frequently have to consult lists of family names to find alternatives. Genealogy is a good resource for surnames.
Baby books are also a good source for character names. When I’m naming a character born in a certain year, I’ll research on the Internet the most popular names from that year. This emulates society to some extent, as I’ve heard from people that they can often guess when someone was born due to their first name. If I’m naming a character born outside the US or to parents born elsewhere, I rely on lists of foreign names and their meanings. This is an instance where I do give the characters names with dual meanings.
When I created Leah Walker in Rebecca, Too, she was initially supposed to be an antagonist for her sister, so I searched for examples of characters from stories about feuding sisters and couldn’t find any. The closest I came was the story of Leah and Rachel from Genesis, who are the wives of Jacob, but because of the circumstances surrounding their betrothal, they weren’t really rivals for his affection beforehand (their father tricks Jacob into marrying Leah before consenting to his marriage to Rachel). Still, Rachel is his preferred partner, even though Leah is the mother of most of his children and there does seem to be a rivalry after the fact.
In some instances, I’ve had to retroactively rename a character. In the original edition of Rebecca Too, there was a character originally called Magnolia Heath, who married one of Leah and Alyssa’s uncles. I realized that I already had Melinda and Margaret, the mother and aunt of Leah and Alyssa, so I renamed Magnolia to be Viola. Subsequently, I decided to call her Virginia when I updated the book. A similar situation occurred in A Tale of Two Sisters in the Long-Timers series. I named two characters Ralph and retroactively renamed one Rolf.
Typically, when I give characters a name, it usually means we’ll be hearing more from them in future stories. I like to create connections between characters who otherwise have little contact. In Worthy, a nurse Rosalind associates with early in the story is the mother of a later character who’s connected to a different set of characters. Even minor characters can play large roles in the narrative, so when they do, I acknowledge this by naming them.