How do I name the characters in my stories? I rely on an intuitive, ill-defined process that somehow seems to work for me. Both names and code names get generated this way. My present post deals only with names.
Several considerations come into play naming a character. First, I do not want to use the name of a living person if I can avoid it. Unusual names therefore are to be preferred if otherwise suitable. To me, Judson Clark (from BATTLE SPRINGS) seems an unusual name. I have met persons whose last name is Clark, but I cannot recall ever meeting a Judson. Thus Judson anything would have worked. Likewise, I do not think I have ever met a Hanley (FLAT LIGHT), a Damon (FLAT LIGHT again), a Grover (THE RAINSTORM REVOLT), a Gafford (THE RAINSTORM REVOLT), or a Logan (DONE BY CHRISTMAS: …).
At most, I think I have met only two Jills (THE DALHART PURSUIT). One might — this gets very murky — have been in an elementary school. I would have been seven or eight at the time, so it’s hard to be sure now. The other Jill I know of is a neighbor’s poodle. It was Jill the Poodle that inspired the first name for Jill Brennan (THE DALHART PURSUIT).
The sound of a name is also important. It took me a while to decide whether DONE BY CHRISTMAS: A STORY OF REVENGE AND FAITH’s villain should have been Taggert Victor — that’s what it was for the earliest chapters in the earliest draft — or Victor Taggert. In the end, Victor Taggert won. I decided it had a better sound to it. I like “r” sounds and “t” sounds in a character’s name.
My fondness for “r” sounds and “t” sounds made me notice the word “Dalhart” in an instant. Dalhart, Texas is a pleasant, mid-sized town in West Texas. It has an annual rodeo (in August) well worth seeing and was headquarters for the legendary XIT ranch, which at its peak (circa 1900) encompassed three million acres. If one had to pick the exact heart of Cowboy Country, Dalhart would be among the better choices. All in all, Dalhart seems a quintessentially masculine word. It was the perfect name for Greg Dalhart (THE DALHART PURSUIT, of course), who is entirely imaginary even if his last name is not.
I also have been working my way around the compass in naming my heroes. This Spring would be a good time to meet both Marcus West (DONE BY CHRISTMAS: …) and James South (BATTLE SPRINGS) if you have not already done so. Heroes named Adam North and Mark East are on their way. Look for them to show up in their own novels within about eighteen months.
The first names for my characters sometimes come from the Bible. In the paragraph above you easily find a James, an Adam, and a Mark. BATTLE SPRINGS presents a Ruth. FLAT LIGHT has both a Benjamin (well, a Ben) and a Jacob. There will be a Mary O’Connell and a John Travis in one of my next few novels. You get the idea.
Finally, I someday expect to name a character after my dog, Virgil. Virgil is a golden retriever with a perfect disposition. I do not know which character will become Virgil, but I think that character will not be a villain.