Naming and Keeping Track of Characters by Carol Underhill

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Naming characters is one of my favorite parts of writing fiction. It’s like having an opportunity to name your children many times over. Sometimes I have a name in mind when I start the story. Other times, I search for something that fits.

I’ve always kept a baby name book handy. Most of them list names, and all variations of it, along with meanings and origin. I’ve used some names just because I like the sound of them. I’ve also chosen by meanings if they suit the personality of the character I’m creating. Occasionally I’ve picked them by country of origin, if I am mentioning the character’s heritage.

Although I still have a baby name book on my desk, I use internet searches most of the time now to choose names.  

  • https://www.babynames.com/ provides the same information as a baby name book, and also lists the most popular names.
  • The Social Security website has a search engine to find out the most popular names for any year as far back as 1880. This is especially helpful when I am writing historical fiction.

Once you come up with names, how do you keep track of them? 

In the first few stories I wrote, I didn’t give much thought to naming the minor characters, like a favorite uncle or a brother who only appear in one or two scenes. I noticed that I was overusing common names like Mike and Tom. 

I came up with a way to track the character names by story title, so I don’t use the same names over and over. That doesn’t mean I never use the same name twice, but it helps me when coming up with new names.

The following is a table that I set up in Word, and the instructions:

Insert Table: 

5 Columns

Start with 10 rows

First Row:

NameBook TitleMain CharacterMajor CharacterMinor Character

Type in a list of names, book titles and which character they are in the story:

Example:

NameBook TitleHero/HeroineMajor CharacterMinor Character
BrianSubstituteHeroine’s brother
AdamCourageHero
AaronBreannaBoyfriend

You can type them in any order. You will line sort them alphabetically when you are finished listing them.

Add rows and characters as needed.

When complete, click on Table Layout.

Select Table.

Click on A/Z Sort. 

Check box for “My list has Header row.”

Sort by: Name/Ascending

NameBook TitleHero/HeroineMajor CharacterMinor Character
AaronBreannaBoyfriend
AdamCourageHero
BrianSubstituteHeroine’s brother

Every time you name a character, you can add a line to the table and sort again, so you always have a complete list.

Do you have ways of keeping track of your character names? If so, I’d love to hear about it.


When Serena Cole sees a car careening toward a little girl, she jumps in to save the child with no thought for her own safety. Later, Serena wakes up in the hospital with amnesia. Everyone calls her a hero, but she doesn’t recall anything—not even her name. 

Mark Harper, the child’s widowed father, isn’t looking for romance, but the beautiful stranger who saved his daughter’s life captures his interest. But when no one steps up to identify her, he brings her home with him. He doesn’t realize that his decision may make his daughter’s Christmas wish come true.

Amazon Link


About the Author:

One of five siblings raised on a farm, Carol has a large extended family. She attended a little country church where she learned Bible verses and songs that have stuck with her for life. She has three adult children who inspire her to chase her dreams. Her household includes a spoiled black Lab and several rescued cats. Her favorite things are reading, spending time with family and listening to music. She likes quiet mornings with a cup of hazelnut coffee.

www.Twitter.com/carolunderhill7

www,Facebook.com/authorcarolunderhill

Website: http://www.authorcarolunderhill.com

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