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  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Mowers

The name is the thing.

When it comes to picking just the right character name, inspiration can come from anywhere!

When I was pregnant with my first child, I found the task of picking the perfect name both exciting and daunting. I imagined floating through my pregnancy for a few months until the perfect name popped into my head one day. I'd roll the name over and over again on my tongue before finally declaring that, yes, this was the ideal name for little Mowers Jr.

My husband on the other hand was more methodical (read: level-headed). He bought a baby name book, two different color highlighters, and proceeded to highlight any name in the book he liked. Then he gave me my highlighter and suggested I highlight any name I might like. Any names we both highlighted would be a positive step in the right direction.

While this process sounded like a brilliant idea, I found it anxiety provoking. If I happened to highlight a name I "kind of" liked, would I be held to it? The name for my darling little one had to be just right. I had a checklist in my mind that the name had to pass.

1. It had to sound smart, yet warm.

2. It had to be respectable, yet not too common. I have always loved my name, because it was the name of queens and saints and movie stars. But times were changing and my kid would be attending school the little Baracks, Oprahs and Peekaboos of the world. Picking a name a little more unique than one in the top twenty for the last half decade couldn't hurt.

3. It needed to be worthy of a President, yet someone you'd want to hang out with.

4. I wanted a name that wouldn't be a hindrance to my child later. Like finding a unique, crazy way of spelling Benjamin so they have to spend the rest of their life correcting people.

,5. Because of my love of the arts, it had to be a name that my child could adapt to a stage name. After all, a child of mine might grow up to be a performer, musician, artist or writer. And if my child was a girl, she'd definitely want a stage name. If she chose to get married after she started her artistic career and wanted to take her husband's name, she wouldn't wouldn't want to lose any name recognition she'd built.

6. And of course, I hoped that I could see into my crystal ball and select a name devoid of scandal or negative connotations down the line. I didn't want to name my child after the worst hurricane on American soil that wouldn't strike for another fifteen years.

Basically, I wanted the moon. No pressure or anything.

This makes me laugh every time.

But choosing names for characters in my writing has always been I know there is a lot that goes into picking just the right name and moniker. There are books and articles and webinars devoted to just how to select character names. For my protagonists, most of all, I have to pick a name that I find likeable. Likeable to me may not be likeable to all my readers, but if I'm going to initiate a relationship with my character (and that's exactly what it feels like when I begin writing), I have to like typing the name a thousand times. Not all the characters need to be likeable, but my main hero and heroine do.

My hero and heroine have to be my dafriends!

I keep a running list of names I like or find really interesting. First names, nicknames, surnames - I keep track of anything that strikes me.

My favorite places to solicit new names for my list:

1. Movie credits

2. Classmates of my children (There are some great combinations coming out of Ohio, folks)

3. Books, magazines, newspapers.

4. I love Googling popular names from a hundred years ago and scrolling to see if there is an old fashioned name I can make modern.

5. Anywhere there is a list of names. When I go to the theater I scan the financial donors on the back of the theatre playbill.

I also want a name that just sounds good to say. In my play, Good Surprises, my protagonist (a retired aged woman who is more than she seems) is named Hattie Marmalade Constance Huffington. The director of my play asked how I came up with it and the truth was, I just pieced together the right number of syllables to make the melody in a name I imagined for my character. She needed a fun sing-song name when she introduced herself. Perhaps it wasn't the wisest strategy, but it worked for me.

Anyway, I'm starting a new book so I can begin selecting my new characters! Will Gregor McGregor or Lachlan McLachlan make an appearance? (Names I spotted in the movie credits last year. Say, what?!)

Who knows, but picking the name is half the fun.

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