One of the great pleasures I find in writing fiction is making up character names. Considering the names you see in TV credits and on movie marquees these days, how could that not be fun if you’re writing romance novels set in Hollywood?
To some authors, though, naming the characters—especially the hero and heroine—is serious business.
Jennifer Crusie, whose books are seriously entertaining, recently wrote on her Argh Inkblog that she prefers names like Tilda, Agnes and Andie because they’re different, and therefore memorable. She says she went through four names before hitting Andie “and then reverse engineered that to Andromeda, because of her mother.”
What kind of people the character’s parents were is important, she adds, because it explains how a name came to be and how it shaped the character. I was especially glad to read that because Kitty Fancher casts a long shadow over her daughter Douglyss in San Fernando Dreams.
Kate Nagy, editor-at-large of Geek Speak Magazine writes at Heroes and Heartbreakers.com, that “while it’s true that a rose would smell as sweet no matter what it was called, in a romance novel, character names do matter in a very big way.” Heroines named Fancy and Senneth are cool, but Nagy says it’s no surprise when readers turn a cold shoulder to books in which leading men are saddled with names like Walter, Horace, Seymour or Bob. And Richard—poor Richard—is “indisputably a rake’s name…in books, at least 75% of the time Richard = TROUBLE. I have no idea why this is, but it’s absolutely true.”
A hero, Nagy says, “needs a name that suggests youth, masculinity, and usually wealth—a name that we readers can envision ourselves screaming in the heat of passion.”
Romance author Jennifer Shirk writes in Samhaim Publishing’s blog that “something struck me as I picked up yet another romance novel that had Jack as the hero’s name. 1) It’s a GREAT name for a hero and 2) Romance writers don’t really like to mess with what is already deemed a good, strong hero’s name.”
Authors love to give their heroines exotic names like Wanda, Sierra, Prudence and Tandy, she says, but when it comes to guys, they “tend to stick with old standbys like Jake, Sam, Keith, Mike, Matt and even Nate.” Why? “Because a name carries an image. And we all want our hero to have the image of being strong and masculine.”
Shirk calls monikers like Bruce, Clark, Dean, Dennis, Don, Grant, Glenn, Lance, Neil, Jay, Todd, Vince and Walt “in-between names that go beyond Jake but don’t quite reach the Roark, Tyler, or even Brent, level.”
Brent? How ’bout Channing and Shia?
Meanwhile, more and more names that used to be men’s are being claimed by women: Cassidy, Emery, Reese, Alexis, Aubrey, Dana, Kendall, Madison and Monroe, to call out just a few listed at Nameberry.com as having “morphed from blue to pink.”
My Fast Lane couples are Lara and Clay, Sushma and Holt, and Douglyss and…well, I can’t say who goes with Douglyss without a major spoiler, so I won’t. Lara and Clay I picked for Palm Springs Heat partly because both names have L.A. in them. Sushma means “beautiful woman” in Sanskrit, and her Malibu Bride beau, Holt…well, Holt speaks for itself. Why would anyone settle for a plain ol’ Jake when there’s a Holt around? The name Douglyss bubbled up from the dark corners of my mind. The male form, Douglas, means “dark river,” and that certainly describes the star of San Fernando Dreams.
Should I have named my characters Vignette and Jack? Solari and Sam? Eh. In another series, maybe. For the Fast Lane books, I took my cues from real Hollywood—a place where real people with fake names play fake people with real names. And to illustrate just how far out I could have gone, I compiled the following quiz using actual names of currently working Hollywood actors.
1. Who’s not real?
a) Charisma Carpenter
b) Nazanin Boniodi
d) Jorja Fox
e) Daveigh Chase
2. Who’s a guy?
a) Addison Timlin
b) Leven Ramblin
c) Jensen Ackles
d) Carlson Young
e) Sprague Graydon
3. Who’s not real?
a) Branagh McManus
b) Harry Treadaway
c) Hamish Linklater
d) Halston Sage
e) Chord Overstreet
4. Who’s a guy?
a) Leighton Meester
b) Ren Clark
c) Saxon Sharbino
d) Blaze Berdahl
e) Lake Bell
5. Who in question 3 is not a guy?
Answers: 1-c, 2-c, 3-a, 4-b; 5-d.