Naming your character

I’ve recently started writing a new short story and questioned whether it would be okay to not name my main character until the second chapter. I got a lot of responses, mainly saying yes, because it adds to the mystery. In truth, I hadn’t decided to leave his name out of it because I wanted to give him a mysterious air, but because I just couldn’t think of a good name!


I’ve gone through my baby names book – one I’ve owned since 2004, and is well and truly torn, dog-eared, and tea-stained. And even though it contains over 100,000 names, I still can’t find one. Granted this book goes a bit overboard, with suggestions including: ‘Aesculapius’, ‘Seabert’ and ‘Yull’. (I’m sure these are lovely names, but they are still a bit odd…) Yet still, I cannot find one I like.

The problem is that (as I’ve said before), I like short names for my characters – or names that can be shortened easily. And while I’m happy to use interesting or unusual names (although possibly not ‘Atwater’ for a first name) and I do want them to be memorable, I don’t want people writing a reviews that include the lines: “WTH was Charlotte Howard thinking when she named her hero ‘Spurgeon Sutcliffe’?!”

baby names

Probably the most well-read book in my house!

I also want a name that is suitable for the setting. My current WIP is based in Aberdeen, with characters that grew up in or near the Granite City. The names don’t have to be particularly Scottish, but they still have to be names that would have been given to children born in the late 70s, early 80s, in Scotland. It has to be realistic.

At the same time I don’t want to be boring. Looking over my previous works, I have gone for very traditional names: Mark, Matthew, Paige, Danny, April, Max, Ethan, Chloe, Imogen, Connor… I pushed the boat out with Bianca, Vance, Cal and AJ. The names need to stay in line with my writing style.

Of course, the other problem is that I have to be careful that I don’t name characters after people I know. Fortunately my cousin has either not read Seven Dirty Words, or has decided to gloss over the fact that I, inadvertently, used his name. (Sorry about that! But at least he’s a lovely character!)  Unfortunately, hubby did notice that I also used the name of a man I used to have a major crush on, in the same story… But it’s okay, because it’s been 13 years…

Despite there being thousands and thousands of usable names out there, I keep coming back to the same ones. Ethan, for example, is one of my favourite male names. It’s strong and cute, but I can’t call every single male hero Ethan! I’ve found that I have to go through my previous books and make a list of names to avoid.

So I’m stuck. I need names – ones that would have been used in Scotland between 1978 and 1983, that are easy to pronounce and read (does anyone else skim over names they don’t know how to pronounce, and in their head read ‘blah blah’ instead of the name?!), fairly short or easy to shorten for  nickname, and memorable. I’ll let you know when I get one… Or perhaps, like Colin Bateman in Mystery Man, I just won’t name him at all…

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