The Name Game

I recently received an email from a reader about how I “come up” with the names of my characters.  I always have fun when naming my characters (and no one else can argue about it – unlike with my children – can you believe my husband wanted a say??). I own 5 baby name books, and am on the Social Security website, checking out popular names. My favorite book is From Aaron to Zoe, 15,000 Great Baby Names, by Daniel Avram Richman.  I also use the phone book and take note of everyone’s name tags at restaurants, hotels, airports – you see some interesting names (I always try and ask the person what their name means). Even newspapers, magazines, and books can yield a perfect character name.  

One of my requirements when choosing a name is to find one that has a special meaning.  My main protagonist in Poison Study, Yelena is a Russian name and it means “shining one” which I thought appropriate since she starts out in a dungeon awaiting execution.  Her situation is dire, but she still shines.  My assassin/chief of security’s name is Valek.  I always liked Val Kilmer in the movie Top Gun – so Valek is a composite of him.

Some names I do make up :)   For Magic Study, I wanted the Sitian people to have earthy names so I chose Fern, Irys, Roze, Leif – I also seem to like jewel names – Perl, Topaz, Garnet.  One of the characters is, Cahil which means inexperienced (so that should give you a hint about his personality).

When I’m starting a novel, I’ll decide what the theme is or the overall feeling of the novel.  Then I’ll comb through my baby books and write a list of names both male and female that fit into the theme.  For Storm Glass, I wanted powerful names and ones that had meanings about the sun, wind and rain, so my list included Kade (powerful), Raiden (thunder god), Nodin (wind), Aydan (little fire – he’s my glass maker), and Ulrick (ruler of all).  All these names are listed in the baby book and they were so fun to find!

I know there are writing books available about naming your characters.  Also when deciding on names, I try and avoid weird spellings and unpronounceable names, basically because I don’t like it when I’m reading a book – it stops me dead as I try and figure out how to pronounce them (guess I shouldn’t of daydreamed when my class was learning about phonics in 6th grade :) !

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  1. 1. editor

    The Richman book is fabulous. I tend to pick a particular language’s phonology to base my names on, and the index in his book that breaks names down by language is dead useful.

  2. 2. mbrennan

    I think I accidentally posted my comment while not logged in properly, so let’s give this another try.

    The Richman book is fabulous. I often pick a particular language’s phonology as the basis for my names, so the index where he breaks them down by language of origin is dead useful.

  3. 3. Jenna Black

    Funny, I also have a character whose name means “shining one:” Lugh, the demon who possesses my heroine in The Devil Inside. And his evil brother’s name, Dougal, means “dark stranger.” I often pick my names via, which is an awesome site. You can actually search by name meaning, as well as searching for names by nationality.

Author Information

Maria V. Snyder

Maria V. Snyder has been writing fiction and nonfiction since 1995. She has published numerous freelance articles in magazines and newspapers. Her first published novel, Poison Study appeared on the shelves in 2005, and chronicles Yelena’s challenges in surviving her dangerous job as a food taster. Magic Study follows with Yelena’s efforts to learn about her magic while searching for a rogue magician turned serial killer. Fire Study chronicles Yelena's adventures with a Fire Warper and was released in March 2008. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Maria earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Meteorology at Penn State University. Much to Maria’s chagrin, forecasting the weather wasn’t one of her skills. Writing, however, proved to be more enjoyable and Maria earned a Master of Arts degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. As part of her research for her Study novels, Maria signed up for a glass blowing class to learn how to shape molten glass. The first thing she learned is it is considerably harder to sculpt glass than it looks. Maria now has an extensive collection of misshapened paperweights, tumblers, and bowls. When she’s not traveling, Maria lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, son, daughter and yellow Lab. She is working on her next MIRA novel, Storm Glass, due out Spring 2009. Readers are welcome to contact Maria by e-mail at, or they can find more information on her Web site at Visit site.



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