Do You Share Any of These Offbeat Ways Authors Pick Character Names?

map hollywood cover with taglineToday my “show biz insider-y” YA romance Map to the Stars releases (shameless sales plug: it’s only $1.99 right now for your e-reader!) and in honor of it being an unapologetically light and fun beach read, I thought I’d pick an equally frothy topic to explore today: cool and/or silly ways authors name characters.

Here are a few of my own more offbeat naming rationales:

Map to the Stars tells the story of an ordinary girl falling for a teen heartthrob and all the hassles that ensue. I knew once the paparazzi got involved, my characters would earn themselves a celebrity couple name (you know, like how Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are Kimye and how Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner—may their love rest in peace—were Bennifer and how Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez were, well, Bennifer…) The book is a rom-com and I knew for comedic purposes it would be way better if their celebrity name were completely un-sexy and ridiculous. Therefore, I named them Annie and Graham, so that their celebrity couple name could combine to make… Grannie. (As Annie comments upon learning this: “our couple name had all the sizzle of orthepedic shoes. Just stab me with some knitting needles.”

My most recent middle grade series, You’re Invited, features a main character named Sadie because I had my great-grandmother’s 1914 date book on my bedside table all last year so I could check in and see what she was up to exactly one hundred years prior to the current date. Most of the entries featured her best friend: Sadie.


In an upcoming novel that deals with genealogy, I’m planning to name every character after someone in my own family tree, so long as I can finesse the names to sound contemporary enough (sorry, Great Aunt Eunice).

I love hearing other authors talk about their naming process and here are a few I’ve heard recently:

  • Potential baby names the author’s spouse just wouldn’t sign off on
  • Name of actual high school nemesis re-cast as story villain (revenge is a dish best served cold and in 12 point Times New Roman)
  • Names found on tombstones, in the Yellow Pages, or in the Social Security database
  • Names found in newspaper-published school honor roles (book character name trumps My Kid is an Honor Student bumper sticker any day of the week)
  • Character naming rights “sold” as donation/auction items (with author crossing fingers winner isn’t Great Aunt Eunice)

How about you? What fun ways do you have for choosing a character’s first or last name?

Oh, and if you’d like to know more about #Grannie, here’s a blurb for Map to the Stars:

Author Jen Malone draws on her real-life experiences as a movie studio publicist to bring you an insider peek at love, Hollywood-style.

The California dream was supposed to give seventeen-year-old Annie Shelton a fresh start far removed from her dad’s unusual betrayal. But when things don’t go according to plan in La La Land, Annie’s mom snags a last-minute gig as makeup artist to a teen movie idol and finagles a spot for her daughter on his European promotional tour.

Down-to-earth Annie would rather fangirl architectural sights than an arrogant A-lister. That is, until behind-the-scenes Graham Cabot turns out to be more sweetly vulnerable than she could have imagined.

Too bad falling for a poster boy isn’t all red carpets and star treatment, especially when you factor in obnoxious fans, an overprotective assistant, a stage mom/manager, and a beefy bodyguard.

But it isn’t until the paparazzi make an appearance that things get really sticky…

Jen here, there, and everywhere:
Website: Jen Malone Writes
Another Blog: Kidliterati
Twitter: @jenmalonewrites


  1. What a fun post! I usually choose names that seem unique and easy to say! I can’t wait to read your book…I remember a chapter from critique group and I loved it.


  2. Most of my characters come to me fully formed with names attached. When I need a name, I look at popular names for the year in which the book is set and also use baby name books. Once in a blue moon, I search for a name with a specific meaning. Congrats on Map to the Stars. Great title.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Congrats on ‘Map to the Stars’. I can use a good beach read – next month! My characters tend to name themselves. I pick a name that feels comfortable and halfway through the novel they decide differently. It’s not from any list or source, just who they feel they are.


    1. Have fun at the beach and thanks, Marti. I have a few that change their mind mid-draft too. Or when I realize I already used the name in another book. Whoops!


  4. As a retired teacher, I tend to go back to former students’ names. I also ask kids wherever I go what their names are…love collecting new and interesting sounding names. And I most certainly use family names. My new grandson is already in two picture books! Fun post, Jen. And good luck with this new title! Keep them coming!


  5. Interesting name choices…I’ve done the same, the baby name thing, old school names, guys I’ve liked/dated/kissed. I have a list of people/places/things I made back when Recaptcha would use words. Two random words would pop up and I’d think, “Oh, that would make a great pet store,” or hotel or restaurant, whatever place the name set forth in my head. Or I’d get a really cool name and think it would be for a cowboy, snobby girl, nerdy girl, etc. Sometimes I miss those Recaptcha’s.

    Map to the Stars sounds really good. Definitely going to check it out. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! I have a friend with a long list of band names on her phone- she’d have to write ten books to use them all but some of them are truly hilarious.


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