Saturday, August 29, 2009

WIldcard Weekend:The importance of character names

New Presents Author Lynn Raye Harris asks how important are character names?

Someone asked me recently how I come up with character names – and I had to stop, think, and say, “I really don’t know.” Often, I’ll be in the pre-writing stage (don’t kid yourself, I’m a pantser; for me, pre-writing means thinking) and suddenly a name, or even a combination of names, pops into my head.

I do usually check them out on the web to make sure that the name didn’t pop into my head because I heard it recently. And to make sure there isn’t a celebrity with the same name. Naming my character Nicole Richie just wouldn’t work, would it? I don’t want something so familiar that it evokes an image in the reader’s head. (Hugh Jackman evokes a mighty fine image, yes, but it just won’t work as a hero name.)

In my first book, Spanish Magnate, Red-Hot Revenge, Alejandro Arroyo Rivera de Ramirez got his name easily enough. The first name popped into my head, and then I looked up Spanish names and how they went together. The rest came together fairly quickly. When it sounds like music to me, I’m there.

Rebecca Layton’s name came out of nowhere. I still don’t know how she got it. I think she may have whispered it to my subconscious because, as I was typing up my chapter for the I Heart Presents Instant Seduction Competition last year, her name went onto the page without thought. But the instant I saw it, I knew it was right.

In my second book, Cavelli’s Lost Heir, out in the UK in December and North America in January, the hero’s name came to me immediately: Prince Nico Cavelli. The heroine was a bit tougher. She started life as Charlotte St. Clair, then became Lily St. Clair. But it was still wrong. Not until she told me her name was Lily Morgan did the story begin to click.

Of course I page through name websites and books. But it isn’t until some combination sings to me that I know I have the right name. For my third book, out in the UK in March (NA is TBA), the hero is Prince Cristiano de Savaré and the heroine is Princess Antonella Romanelli. I had to try on a few names with Cristiano, but Antonella is actually a minor character in Cavelli’s Lost Heir. (Her book is titled The Prince’s Royal Concubine – yum!)

I’m working on my fourth title for Presents right now. I won’t tell you the names yet, but I know they’re right because they sing to me. Oddly enough, part of the idea for this post came to me when I started jotting ideas for Book 5 – I had the hero right away, but I have no idea who the heroine is. And until I know her name, I can’t write anything more than the one scene I ended up having to write because it wouldn’t leave me alone. Her name will tell me who she is in so many ways. I’ll know how she was treated as a child, what her hopes and dreams are, and whether she is outgoing or shy.

It’s a lot to ask of a name, isn’t it? That’s why a name has to be right, why it has to sing to me and make it impossible for me to think of my characters any other way. Names are everything in my world.

How important are names to you as a reader? Would a name keep you from picking up a book? Or, conversely, would a name compel you to pick up a book? What are some of your favorite names?

Visit me at to find out more information about my books. And be sure to enter my contest – you could win a satin tote filled with goodies!


Lynn Raye Harris was a finalist in the 2008 Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart® contest, and she is the winner of the Harlequin Presents Instant Seduction contest. She loves a hot hero, a heroine with attitude and a happy ending. Writing passionate stories for Harlequin is a dream come true.


  1. Lynn, I have to tell you I got asked where I got my hero's names from at my first ever library talk earlier this year. So I went into this long speech about how, for me, it was all about whether I found the name sexy or not. Whether this was a guy I could see myself fancying, because I absolutely have to fall in love with my heroes before I can write about them... Then I finished off by saying 'For example, I don't think I'm likely to ever have a hero named Nigel.'

    Now, it just so happened there was only one guy sitting in the audience (who was one of the librarians) who suddenly went bright red and all his female colleagues started laughing...Yep, you've guessed it, his name was Nigel and what made it even worse, he was actually kinda cute!!

    I'm going to nick your answer next time!

  2. Alejandro Arroyo Rivera de Ramirez

    Did you know that "arroyo" means "stream" or "brook" and "ribera" ("b" and "v" sound very similar in Castilian) means "river bank" or "shore", or sometimes "riverside plain"? Having the two together make him sound very watery to me.

  3. Heidi, LOL! How could you know, right? But that's part of it -- the name has to be sexy to you as a writer.

    Laura, I didn't bother looking up the meanings of the names when I consulted the most popular Spanish surnames. I *did* look at how Spanish names are put together though. But those names were all in the top 50 Spanish surnames.

    But, LOL, maybe there's something to it: Lynn means lake or waterfall, depending. Perhaps I have a watery bent. *g*

  4. I had written some notes about a historical I might do someday. While we were on vacation, this project started to call to me and I did quite a bit of writing. And I'm like you--without character names, it's hard for me to get very far. Thought it over, landed on "Constance" for the heroine, and started to fly along.

    Then we got home and I dug out my notes. I'd actually gotten to the point of naming her . . . Marguerite. Even have backstory rationale. I've switched back and forth, and I'm going to have to keep writing to find out which she is. I've never had the question linger on this long.

  5. I know exactly what you mean! The heroine whose name I didn't know when I wrote this post, I now know. But that book is actually not going to be written for a couple more months -- her name might change. :)

    Good luck figuring out which name you want to use!!

  6. Hi Lynn - (loved SMRHR! Hot, hot, hot!) Names are very important. The story just does not flow until I have the names of the H/h firmly embedded in my mind. At present I seem to be stuck with "M'" for my hero's - don't know why though. The 3 Roman Historical's have been Marcus, Marsallas and Metellus! And the hero of my "Modern" is Max. Take care. Caroline x

  7. Hi, Caroline! Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed the book. :) And I'm with you: the story just won't flow until the main characters have names that fit. When I was writing Cavelli's Lost Heir, I couldn't get past the first chapter with Charlotte/Lily until she was sorted out. It just didn't feel right!

    Oh, Roman historicals! Sounds delish! I was a huge Colleen McCullough fan years ago. The First Man in Rome was amazing. I never got past the 3rd book in that series though. Not sure why.

  8. All my heroes are named Jack until I figure out another name. LOL! I agree that the name has to be right or the characters just don't talk. It's like they're saying, "You named me Gertrude and you expect me to cough up my life story to you? Think again, honey!" I bought one of the name books mentioned in our chapter meeting a few months ago but haven't had a chance to use it.

    I have to tell you that I was not a fan of Presents based on one book I read where the hero just was too bastardly to be loved. But I adored your Alejandro and have given Presents another chance.

    Happy writing!


  9. I'm in the process of naming a hero today... very difficult. Many ideas, many possibilities.

    But, yes, when the name is right, you just *know.*

  10. Lynn, I'm so looking forward to reading your new title.

    As for names, I find them lots of fun but something I have to work out early in the story. In my current 'The Savakis Mistress' my heroine is Callie (short for Callista which means 'most beautiful'). I loved the name mainly because it played right into the issues she had about how people perceived her (making assumptions about her because of her looks) and how that conflicted with the reality of her life. Great fun!

    Laughing here about your Nigel story. I've said almost the same thing here, but just to friends. I hope your Nigel recovered!


  11. Hey, y'all! I'd of been here sooner, but the hubby dragged me out shopping today. Yes, shopping. But it was stuff for his man room, sigh.

    Marilyn, LOL about naming them all Jack! I actually had a book planned when I was writing military romance that featured a Jack. I still want to write it someday. :) I loved it when Linda talked about the name books that day! I finally broke down and bought the character naming book. It's fab. I'm so glad you gave Presents another chance -- and that my Alejandro wasn't too bastardly for you! Thanks so much. :)

  12. Hey, Kim! Oooh, up to the naming part now? I loved what we talked about, so can't wait to hear it. :)

    Hi, Annie! I love the name Callie! That's really great. It looks like we all have to get those names right in the beginning, doesn't it?

    I could probably never name a hero Michael, for instance. Not because I don't think it's a sexy name -- I do -- but it's my husband's name. And my dad's. And my brother's. LOL!

  13. LOL, looks like I'm doing pidgin up above. Should read I'd have been...