with guest Keli Gwyn
Names are special, aren’t they? Some names just make you smile, such as those in this meme I created especially for the Seekers.
To see how much a name matters, imagine this: you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed and see a friend’s baby or grandbaby announcement. If you’re like me, the first things you do—after oohing and ahing over the adorable baby pictures—are assure yourself that the mom and little one are both doing well and that the predicted gender was correct.
The next question that comes to my mind is, “What’s the baby’s name?” I feel shortchanged if it’s not mentioned. I must resort to referring to the baby as “your little princess” or “your handsome fellow” in my comment instead of using the carefully selected name given by a couple of understandably proud parents.
Because names are so important, moms and dads put a great deal of effort into choosing them. Authors do the same. We’re supposed to anyhow, but I’ve been known to pick names that are problematic. Thankfully I have a savvy editor who looks out for me.
In order to choose names that work well, I keep the following twelve tips in mind. You can catch the highlights in the infographic below or read on to learn more about each of the suggestions. And they’re just that—suggestions. I’m sure you have some tips of your own. Feel free to share them in the comments. For now, here are mine…
1) Give strong main characters strong names.
Certain names evoke strength, which is what we want our main characters to exhibit. A man named Miles, Spencer, James or Flynt—the names of the heroes in my published novels—is likely to be perceived differently than a man named Egbert, Odell, Llewellyn or Ignatius. The latter names could be fun for eccentric secondary characters in a historical, though.
2) Clarify gender with distinct names.
I gave the heroine of my August release, Make-Believe Beau, the name Jessica Sinclair, but early in the story she tells the hero that everyone calls her Jessie. Her real name, Jessica, is what you’ll see in the back cover blurb, though. The reason is that Jessie could be confused with Jesse, and my publisher doesn’t want any confusion. The hero and heroine of a romance need to be clearly identifiable.
3) Portray personalities with characterizing names.
In my second Love Inspired Historical, A Home of Her Own, I wanted the hero to have a past sweetheart who was a socialite. I chose the name Sophronia Wannamaker. Without even hearing a description of her, readers can tell she’s a woman who has an elevated opinion of herself. I even worked in a subtle hint about her desire to turn her future husband into a gentleman she felt was worthy of her by choosing the last name Wannamaker. (Think “want to make ’er” man a success.)
4) Bear the characters’ initials in mind.
Chip and Callie are the hero and heroine of Make-Believe Beau. They first appeared in my previous book, so their names were set. It wasn’t until I submitted the proposal for my March 2017 release, Her Motherhood Wish, that my editor taught me another tip. To help readers keep the main characters straight, especially in a romance where there are a hero and heroine who spend a great deal of time on the page together, it’s best not to have their first names begin with the same letter. Lesson learned.
5) Use names to reflect nationality or region.
The hero of A Home of Her Own, James, is a first-generation American who is the son of an Irish father and a German mother. Since his heritage comes into play in the story, I chose O’Brien for his last name. I gave him a more traditional first name that sounds “American,” since his immigrant parents were eager for him to fit in.
My first novella, “A Love Returned,” in the Seven Brides for Seven Texans Romance Collection to be released this coming December, takes place in Texas. I wanted to show that the heroine’s father is a Texan to the core, so I chose name with a Southern feel: Beauregard Culpepper.
6) Know how to use nicknames effectively.
In the first version of A Home of Her Own that I sent my editor, the hero’s mother insisted on calling the heroine Rebecca, but the hero opted to called her Becky. My editor said this could be confusing to readers. I could see her point, since the names begin with different letters. My solution was to have everyone call her Becky.
The heroine of A Bride Opens Shop is named Elenora, but the hero calls her Ellie. At first she’s irked by his use of the unaccustomed nickname, but as the story progresses, she grows to accept it. Her gradual acceptance of the name shows her gradual acceptance of Miles, thus making the nickname a useful tool. In this case, the two names worked because the initial is the same.
7) Keep a lookout for cutesy names.
In my first Love Inspired Historical, Family of Her Dreams, the heroine’s best friend, Polly, has a two-year-old daughter, Abby. I have a hard time remembering the little girl’s name because before the story went through revisions, her name was Anna. My savvy editor had me change it because she thought having Polly and Anna was too much. As many times as I’d read the story, I’d missed the Pollyanna connection. See why I’m so grateful for my wonderful editor?
8) See if someone famous—or infamous—has the name.
When I created the doctor who first appears in A Home of Her Own, I named him Matthew Brady. For some reason, the names just sounded good together. The name also sounded somewhat familiar. I popped it into Google and found out why. Matthew Brady was the famous Civil War photographer who was alive at the same time my story took place. I quickly changed the doctor’s named to Matthew Wright. (I played with that name, since, in that story, Mr. Wright is really Mr. Wrong. Sneaky, aren’t I?)
A famous name can be used intentionally. In “A Love Returned,” each of the seven Hart brothers bears the name of a famous Texan. My brother’s full name is Sam Houston Hart, but like his brothers, he goes by his middle name. Houston’s famous name is essential to the story.
9) Test first and last names together.
It’s important to have a character’s Christian and surnames be a pleasing combination. To check for this, I say the two names out loud. They might look good on paper, but listening to them is a surefire test of how well they go together.
When writing a romance, be sure to try out the heroine’s first name with the hero’s last name. As she becomes more and more enamored of the hero, she certainly will.
10) Shy away from the tricky S ending.
I learned this lesson the hard way. The heroine of Family of Her Dreams is named Tess. The possessive form of her name makes me sound like I’m hissing when I say it: Tess’s. Despite the awkwardness, the name was an integral part of the story, so I used it anyhow. I was careful to avoid using the possessive form any more than absolutely necessary, though.
11) Stick with standard spellings to keep things simple.
Unique spellings can be challenging, so we have to bear that in mind when using one. We can tweak the traditional as long as the spelling doesn’t confuse readers. We don’t want them to stop and scratch their heads as they figure out how to pronounce a character’s name.
Writers of contemporaries or fantasy would likely have more leeway than I do as a historical author, but I did make a small change from the usual in my August release. The hero of Make-Believe Beau is Flynt Kavanaugh. I got his first name off the back of the historic cardboard-mounted photograph of the gentleman I used as the model for the character. The name Flynt was written in faded ink. As soon as I saw it, I knew I wanted to use it, spelled just that way. Since the name is pronounced the same whether it’s Flint or Flynt, my editor let the variant spelling fly.
12) Make names memorable whenever possible.
The best way to ensure that our character’s names will stick in our readers’ minds is to create characters who are so well developed and well-liked by readers that they’re worthy of the names we give them. The Seekers do this all the time.
I’m sure if I asked you to list the names of Seekers’ characters that you remember, you would be able to come up with plenty. Actually, listing beloved characters created by Seeker authors sounds like fun, so feel free to give a shout out to those characters and their creators by name in the comments today.
Phew! You made it through all that, so I think you deserve a reward. Instead of offering one copy of Make-Believe Beau for today’s giveaway, I’m going to offer a print copy to three different winners, so your chance of winning just tripled. How’s that for sweetening the pot, er, Seekerville cat dish? (Winners announced in the next Weekend Edition.)
Questions for You
Many names have stories behind them. What’s the story behind yours?
I love my uniquely spelled name, even though it’s written incorrectly at times. When combined with my equally unique last name, I’m the only Keli Gwyn in cyberspace, which is way cool. Do you love your name? Why, or why not?
The Courtship Charade
As a draftswoman in a man’s world, Jessica Sinclair causes a stir as her new male colleagues vie for her attention. And the company manager has an ultimatum: fake a courtship with her boss, Flynt Kavanaugh…or lose her job. But pretending to be smitten with the handsome engineer unleashes a real, complicated attraction—and could reveal the past she hoped to keep hidden.
Jessica is certainly the best person for the job. But as their make-believe romance escalates, Flynt knows that’s not the only reason he wants her on his team. However, with his past shrouded by a shameful secret, Flynt has always focused his ambitions on building a career, not a family. Now he has designs on Jessica’s heart, but can they trust each other with the truth?
Award-winning author Keli Gwyn, a native Californian, transports readers to the early days of the Golden State. She and her husband live in the heart of California’s Gold Country. Her favorite places to visit are her fictional worlds, historical museums and other Gold Rush-era towns. Keli loves hearing from readers and invites you to visit her Victorian-style cyber home at www.keligwyn.com, where you’ll find her contact information.