Choosing character names for the ladies

One of the commenters on my recent interview post at Coffee Time Romance asked how I chose my character names, and so I thought that would be a good subject to talk about here.

Naming your character correctly is one of the most important choices a writer makes in her novel. It might not be as important as the personalities we create for them, but as we all know, our name has a bearing on who we are. And sometimes, our name can affect the person we become, or the person people remember. I mean, would you call your tiny bundle of joy Benedict Arnold? Or Sandy Beach? Really?

In a novel, a name is one of the many choices you make that has meaning. Names, like plots, aren’t random. Here are a few of the choices I made, and why.

  • Lady Claire Trevelyan. Claire means “bright and shining; famous” according to my baby name book. In French, it means “clear, bright light,” as in clair de lune, the shining light of the moon.  To that I would add the quality of clarity, which if she did not possess it in the beginning of her story, she does by the end. “Claire” also rolls smoothly off the tongue when paired with her family name, Trevelyan, a place name from Cornwall, the “tre” prefix meaning “town.”
  • Alice Chalmers. You might remember me talking about how I discovered Alice’s name in a previous post. Yes, I named her after a tractor. But she’s a mechanic, she’s stubborn, and she tends to roll right through things rather than wait to think of a subtle solution. It suits her, doesn’t it?
  • The Mopsies. Some characters appear in your head complete with faces, hair, ragged dresses, holey stockings, and names. The Mopsies were like that; in fact, “Mopsies” came first and Maggie and Lizzie second. Somewhere in the soup that is my mind, I crossed moppet with the Victorian character Topsy, and Mopsies was the result.

    As the books went on, though, and particularly when it was necessary for Claire to get traveling papers for them, the Mopsies had to have a last name. So I wondered, what kind of name would be shortened up to “Mopsie” by the girls themselves or by the other street children, given that they wound up on the street before they could manage language very well? What if they were the children of French immigrants … and what if something bad happened to their parents that might come back to bite them sometime in a future book? Ooh la la, what if their surname were “de Maupassant”? See—a plot springs to mind already!

Next post: the gentlemen.


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