The Name Game: What is that character’s name?

Today RJ Nolan, author of bestsellers like L.A. Metro and In a Hearbeat visits our blog and talks about the name game:


While it might seem like a minor detail to some, a character’s name plays a very important role in the story—at least it does for me. So just how do I go about finding the perfect name for my characters? It starts with a list of names I’ve compiled. Originally, that list had names of family members, friends, and a few of my less-than-favorite people. After all, the antagonists in the story need names too. The list has expanded over time to include names I’ve encountered that sound interesting. I watch the end credits of movies, notice the name of sales people and others in the public sector that wear name tags. Any name that might make an intriguing character name goes on the list. I would estimate the list has more than a hundred names on it at this point.

Once I have a list of names, then comes the fun and sometimes aggravating part: choosing which name fits which characters. Sometimes it is easy. With L.A. Metro, I chose the names of family members for the main characters, Jess and Kim. Right from the start, the names just fit, (and no, the family members are nothing like their namesakes). Sam, from the same book, is named in honor of one of my favorite characters, Sam Carter, a strong, capable woman from Stargate SG-1.

Then there are the character names that are much harder to figure out. For the longest time, I referred to the main character in my latest novel, In a Heartbeat, as Chris. But no matter what I did, the character and the story refused to gel. I just could not get a handle on the character. I’ve learned from experience that when that happens, it means I have the character’s name wrong. After much frustration, a little cursing, a lot of studying names from my list, and one dream later, I finally learned the character’s name: Riley. As soon as I began to refer to the character by her correct name, Riley, she began to take shape and the details needed to make her a full-blown, three-dimensional character emerged. I know much more about every one of my characters than ever makes it into the book, but those little details that do get included are what makes the characters come to life. For example: who Riley was named after and why.

I’ve been character building for the next book in the L.A. Metro series. This time both main characters’ names have been a struggle. Sometimes the characters’ names come first, before I even start a story or have a complete idea of what the story will be about. That is what happened with this next book, but it still didn’t make things easy this time. I knew that I wanted to introduce new characters  to L.A. Metro’s ER. I knew one of the characters’ name long before the story idea. The main character was to be named Logan. I spent more than a month trying to come up with the character’s last name. As happened with Riley in In a Heartbeat, the character just refused to form. Then one day, out of the blue, it hit me. Logan was not the character’s first name, but her last name. What had thrown me off was the fact that the character is called Logan by everyone.

The other main character has been just as troublesome. As with Logan, I thought I had the name of the character all set, her name was Kate. Apparently not. The character in the book didn’t fit my vision of the character with that name.

Even after learning the new character’s name, I resisted using it. The name seemed too old fashion. But in the end, my muse won out. Because without her, there is no story. So the second character in the next book will be called: Dale.

So there you have it. Just a little of what I do before I even start writing the story. Oh, and as for that other character, Kate…I still have not figured out which story she belongs to. Muses are very perverse creatures (but don’t tell her I said that) 🙂

RJ Nolan

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About the Author : Astrid Ohletz


  1. Widdershins June 9, 2014 at 23:19 - Reply

    “Muses are perverse’. Love it! 😀 I’m going to put it right up there with a favourite of mine, ‘The Goddess is a bitch’ … spoken in the most reverent of tones, of course!

  2. […] The Name Game: What is that character’s name? […]

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