Question of the Month. How can I find neat names for characters?

The Other Bunch — Bonnie, Pat and Dixie — went to Bonnie’s cabin in Featherville for a weekend retreat recently. While there we did some writing workshops to prime our creative pumps.

A naming exercise, that proved to be reasonably productive, involved mining telephone books, obituaries or cemeteries for names. Interesting first names are to be listed on one page, interesting last names on another. When the writer needs a name for a character the lists are matched up until the right combination presents itself. Once the right first and last names are together the chosen character’s name might give an idea of the his or her personality.

For instance — Dixie matched up Adelphia and Albedyll. The character immediately took on an attitude, probably because of the wild name. The writing exercise said to stand the character in the middle of the room, walk around her and follow her down the street.

This is what resulted: Everyone called her Adel, at her request, because her name was quite a mouthful. She went forth into the morning with purpose, marching rather than ambling so no one would think she was idle or aimless. She kicked a rock in her path, as if it had placed itself there on purpose just to irritate her. In fact some days she felt the whole world was conspiring against her to make her mad.

Bonnie named her character Doyle Lesner. She didn’t get a sense of his personality from the name but he did see quite a lot of scenery when she walked him down the street.
Doyle walked down the dusty street, passing the red hydrant on the corner. It was a bright, sunshiny day, and a kid was riding his bicycle on the sidewalk instead of the street. Rusty’s old pickup truck stopped and Rusty waved from the window, “Hay ya, Lesner.” Doyle waved back and crossed the street. He passed the coffee shop on his way to the hardware store. He glanced briefly at the stand holding real estate brochures. The stand beside it usually holding the daily newspaper was empty. As he passed the cafe, Mildred stopped filling a customer’s cup with coffee long enough to wave. The red wagon outside the cafe was filled with white geraniums. Someone was getting a permanent in the beauty salon next door. A dog barked as it chased the kid on the bicycle. The caution light was blinking yellow at the corner of Main and Second.

Pat named her character Wes Manley and here is what he did. Wes Manley sloughed off his cigarette as he walked to work. He tried to remember where he had parked his car the night before. It would come to him later in the day after his fifth cup of coffee.
Running a hand over his face, he felt patches of whiskers. His boss Sam wouldn’t mind because Sam only showered three times each week.

You might like to try this activity next time you need a name for a character or even an idea to get you started writing.

Dixie Thomas Reale


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