What's In a Name? How I Name Characters

Scarlett O’Hara. Atticus Finch. Bilbo Baggins. Harry Potter. Rebecca. Oliver Twist. Hercule Poirot. Could any of these characters have been as effective with a different name?

Characters in a series book are extremely important because the author wants the reader to like them, engage with them and ultimately seek them out in subsequent books. At the same time, the author wants the character’s names to in some small way reflect their personality. But it’s not always a conscious decision.

Chapter one of An Uncertain Grave introduces Kenny Brainerd – a hapless hiker who stumbles across a dead body at the conclusion of a hike gone horribly wrong. Kenny is just not a very competent man– at anything. His first name came from a bungling co-worker in a long ago summer camp job. Then I needed a last name that suggested that, and Brain nerd seemed just about perfect, combine the words, lose an “n” and it was good to go.

The next names, Cliff, Mike and Kurt, were chosen to show the opposite quality – strength. One syllable, they all had a quick, decisive ring to them. Cliff and Mike are the state troopers that investigate the dead body and I wanted their names to reflect their abilities. And Kurt, head of a local search and rescue team, also needed a strong name.