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October 13, 2011

Vicki Batman is discussing....

Changing Your Identity

 I don't mean changing your name to a penname; that's another topic. This one is about changing the names of your characters in your book.

I don't know about you, however, I belabor over what to name my characters. I admit, I am fond of certain names and prefer those.

So where do you go to find them? I've had recommendations to try baby naming books and the social security website which lists popular names by years. For example, here is the table I found on their site for 2010 (

Top 10 Names for 2010

Yeah, none of the girl names worked for me. I have used some of the boys.

I looked up the ranking of my name. Back in the dark ages of 1987,
I found the last ranking for Vicki in the top 1000.

So what does all this mean? I want to name my characters something not weird that readers can relate to and like. I'm partial to the way some names sound, the authority, the picture they convey, especially for the guys.

Curious, I surveyed my published stories and found I'd used these names:

Ms. Krauthammer

Yep, I'm partial to Paige, David, Cassie. Honestly, is anyone going to remember from story to story I used them again? Probably not.

I looked at what the editors changed:

-Mark Lincoln to Logan Lincoln

-Jason Myers of Myers Dept. Store to Jimmy Kline of Kline's Dept. Store (An adult named Jimmy nowadays?)

-Paige Wells to Lori Davis

-Michael Calhoun to Matthew Calhoun

-Alexander Walsh of Walsh's Dept. Store to Grant Malbec of Malbec's Dept. Store (someone drinking wine?).

-Cassie Hallstrom to Piper Lucida (Lucida is a font; Piper is a Sarah Palin kid).

Sigh. Some of the changes didn't work for me. There's nothing I can do about this now; however, I'll be thinking long and hard before I'm letting anyone mess with my pals.

What do you think? Am I too old-fashioned? Have you had names messed with in your works? How did you feel?

Vicki Batman named her dog after an action hero--"Jones." Her son after The Thin Man. And calls her husband Handsome. "Taking Flight" is a short fiction piece in Muse It Up Publishing's cancer anthology. Find her at: or at:


Sylvia said...

Hi Vicki,
I've never had an editor change my characters name, but I've only gotten to use one Book Title. I use a book called THE BABY NAME SURVEY BOOK. It tells you what people think when they hear the name. Some I agree with, many I do not. Like you, I have a tendency to use names over and over, so I've had to make a spreadsheet of character names I've used in the past. But I've never had an editor change my characters name. Piper Logan? Sounds like a small airplane. Ha!

Roseanne Dowell said...

I have never had an actual character's name changed. I have, however, had editors change the spelling. One from Wendi to Wendy - which I immediately changed back. I don't much care if my editors like my names or not. They're my characters and I don't believe an editor has the right to change them. To suggest you change them, fine, but to actually pick a name for your characters. To me that's just wrong. It's changing your work, your voice, your story. I'm a firm believer that a character's name affects the way we, as readers, see them. I tried to change the name of one of my characters because I had too many names starting with the same letter. Well she balked so badly and wouldn't behave after that, so I had to change it back. I had to change character's names in several stories - for reasons I won't go into. It took forever before I came up with names that worked.

Anonymous said...

Editors change names? *gulp* Hasn't happened here yet, thankfully, because I am rather attached to my character's names.

I tend to google names until something jumps out at me to use.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Hi, Sylvia, thanks for the book suggestion. I know, Piper is a plane. LOL

Hi, Roseanne. You are spot on. I put all the effort into creating the work, I should be able to name them what I want, I mean, within reason. I get it. And I agree strongly with your statement about "A character's name affects the way we, as readers, see them." Thanks so much for your wisdom.

Hi, Doris. I thought I was way too attached until you ladies posted this morning. I have a friend who is undergoing the same experience I had and she isn't a happy camper. Glad you stopped by and come back to the PP.

Jim Hartley said...

Guess I've been lucky, I've never had an editor change a character name. I do sometimes reuse a name, either just because it sounds nice, or occasionally for a good reason. Wrote two books that had nothing to do with each other, but then I did a sequel to one, and found that a reference back to the other, using the main character from it, worked beautifully ... so that one name sort of ties everything together.

Ordinary people get ordinary names, but some witches, aliens, or "high fantasy" characters get odd names like Zythra or Felistia. Just depends on how it sounds.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Hi, Jim. Thanks for sharing and you've made a good point about fantasy using different names. Congratulations on your work!


chris keniston said...

a speaker once said it's best to choose names for heroes and heroines with hard sounds - it makes the names and the characters sound strong - hence probably why so many heroes nowadays are named Jake!! lol.

but my mother is always complainging to me when she reads a book - "Isn't there some rule against naming all the characters with the same letter? I can't remember which one is James and John and for heaven's sake Jessica and Janice - I have no chance!"

I have had reader friends suggest changing names and I've obediently obliged- LOL.

I guess I'm just not that attached to my names-

Anonymous said...

I labor over my names...I don't want anyone to change them. In one of my books, the names are clues in he mystery!!!! I could't have someone change that up!!

Karen A Smith said...

Chris, in an early draft of my 1st novel, I had my writing mentor advise that I change names not just because of same first letter, but too many one-syllable, too many same sound endings. I laid them out on a spreadsheet and realized she was right. I kept the ones that were non-negotiable (MC and primary love interest, one or two others) and changed most of the remaining. It really did change the flow of story for the better, I think. Found same problem with friends series. Titles sound alike, can't remember which is Book 1, 2, etc.

Pamela Stone said...

In my last book, my editor asked me change the hero's name in the rewrite. I agreed to all her other suggestions, but stuck with my hero's name. I mean, Vince was just Vince. He was not a Matt. She said fine, that it was just a suggestion. I pick my battles. It's interesting to me how many of yours they change though, an in my mind, not always for the best.

David Kentner -- KevaD said...

Interesting post.
I haven't encountered an issue over my name choices as yet.
I use a variety of lists to help me find a name my character and I can agree on, including surnames. However, I am prone to use a name I like more than once, so my crit friends help keep me in line.

Naming fictional, small towns gives me the most trouble. Gah!! I fuss and fuss over location names.

I can understand an editor's concern with a business name as sometimes that can border on Trademark issues.
But unless a character's name is too close to a celebrity, politician, or real person in the news, I don't get the need to change the name.

Cara Marsi said...

The only times editors have changed my characters' names have been my short stories for the confession magazines. They almost always change at least one character's name. I usually like my names better, but there's not much I can do. One character name I really liked was Luke Corrado. The editor changed it to a non-generic name. So I'll use Luke Corrado as a character in a novel. I've given my short story heroines ethnic names that the editors haven't changed, but I've found whenever I give a hero an ethnic name, they change it. Go figure.

Thanks for the post.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Hi, Chris. "J" names brings to mind a funny story. Handsome and I really struggled over naming our eldest. My sister said please, don't give him a "J" name. Jason, Joshua, Jake... We didn't.

Hi, Tess. What a good idea to use the name and tie it to your mystery. Congratulations on your new book!

Hi, K. Victoria. I like your tidbit about how changing names ultimately helped your character flow.

I had a short ready to send out and at the last minute, changed the hero from Hugh to Ethan. It hit me out of the blue to do it and it works. Thanks for posting.

Hi, Pam. You get it! Some names are not meant to be messed with. I mean, really, Malbec? ox

Hi, David. Thank you so much for stopping here and posting. I'm following the advice and sticking with my choices. As for naming towns...I struggle too. :)

Hi, Cara, my friend. Yep, the confessions change names regularly. I find it interesting about changing ethnic names. We do live in a global world. Let's visit soon. ox

Brinda said...

Wow. I am surprised that the editor asked for these changes. Recently, I realized that I tended to name my characters with names all starting with the same first letter. I'll be more aware of it in the future since I've noticed I do this.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Hi, Brinda. Granted, I was in an unusual circumstance with these stories. However, I have a friend who is having major difficulties. In fact, I should go bug her to come post.

Thanks for stopping!

Cindy Carroll said...

I'm not published (yet) so haven't had an editor want to change my character names. I don't get too attached to the names because I usually pick their name near the end of the book. Sometimes the middle if the right name comes to me. I have to get to know my characters before I can name them so in the beginning they're John and Jane. Then I'll go through and pick a name that fits each character.

I never use the same name twice, unless I'm writing a sequel of course and then it's the same character.

If I have one character with a name that starts with a C they are the only character that starts with a C. I keep a spreadsheet handy with the alphabet in one column and the name of the character that starts with that letter in another column. If a letter is taken I don't use it again.

I had a crush on a Len Corrado in high school. I used his name in a book.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Hi, Cindy. I agree with you about not finding the character's name until the end of the story. And that's what I usually do, too. It feels...right. Natural. And belongs to them.

I guess I will have to go the spreadsheet route too. But I'm thinking some multi-published authors have used a name more than once. :)

Thanks for posting.

Michelle Miles said...

Oh don't get me started. :) their names are their names. And I spend a foo deal of time finding the right ones. To have someone tell me to hang ALL their names (I happened) nearly started a riot. LOL I can understand if they sound alike or whatever but all? No way. And I don't mind fighting an editor over it either.

Michelle Miles said...

And sorry about the typos. I'm on the iPhone

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Hi, Michelle. There you are! Yep, I agree we name our characters those names for a reason. It would be like someone saying to us when our child is a toddler to change his/her name. No way! We spend lots of time with these people and know them very intimately.

Thank you for blowing steam! LOL

Liz Lipperman said...

Vicki, I once did a blog about how my 3 year old grandson made me realize that names are important. I was telling him the three piggies story, and he insisted I name them.
And my agent is always making me change my names. Seems I favor Hispanic and Italian names. "Throw some WASPS in there," she grumbles!!

And because I gravitate toward names that start with the same letter or sound similar, I have a sheet of paper with each letter of the alphabet on it. I've written the names of ALL the characters in ALL my books, both with first and last names under the proper letter. I even have a Q. It keeps me honest.

Great post.I say editors should NEVER change your work. They can make suggestions only..except for titles, which you have no say over!!

Cindy Carroll said...

Very true, Vicki. I hope I have that problem one day. Right now, with no books published, I can pick a different name for each character in each book.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Hi, Liz. Obviously, I need to create a sheet with first and last names.

Thanks to you and Cindy for the suggestions.

Kathy Ivan said...

I've never had an editor ask me to change the characters names (yet). I tend to use very straightforward names for the most part, trying to make sure the name is appropriate for the region where the characters live.

I have changed names on works in progress, though, when I've caught myself using too many of them starting with the same first letter.

But don't get me started on how many times I've had to go back and change eye color (In one manuscript every character ended up with green eyes!) LOL

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Hi, Kathy. *laughing* re eye color. If I'd use character worksheets, maybe I wouldn't have that problem.

You're the best!

Linda Steinberg said...

Hi Vicki,

I agree about avoiding naming everyone with the same initial or the same number of syllables or letters, but beyond that?? The characters' names are the characters' names and nobody should mess with them.
Sometimes I use baby books to find names, but only when the original name that came to me can't be used for some reason, like one of the above. Most names just come to me. Usually before I start writing. I find the name affects who the character is, rather than waiting for the character to be fully written to inspire the name.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Hi, Linda. Sometimes, I go with a tentative name because I can't think of my character is "real" without one. Calling he/she A or B or X isn't as effective for me. And like I said earlier, it is easy to change if the name no longer fits when I reach the end. ox

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

FYI: I'm working on a naming sheet now!

Phyllis said...

Hi Vicki,

Well, I've not had that problem yet and I don't know quite how I will react whenever it happens to me.

I seem to have my favorites, too. I like good strong names, but I think that is more along the genre I write. Let’s face it, Daisy just doesn’t fit the butt kicking female crime fighter. But…that could be a nice change.

I also have gone through the yellow pages to get names. I’ve also gone through the employee listings at my jobs and add them to my notebook. Yes, I have a notebook of names I’ve accumulated.

Great post, Vicki, nice topic.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Hi, Phyllis. I like "Daisy." She could be contra to what we'd normally think of a girl. Thanks!

Cynthia D'Alba said...

As I have only book (and it isn't scheduled to hit the market until February 2012), I haven't had this problem. But I also have a character spreadsheet with all the names I've used along the way in various books. I found I used way too many "J" names for my heroes! It was a good thing to know. It made me look for other names.

Baby Voyager is what I use to explore for names.

Shelley Munro said...

I had to change the names in one of my recent books. I hated changing, and then the one I picked was rejected too. Names are funny things because I have to find the perfect name before I can start writing. Changing it at a later stage really messes with me, so I sympathize big time!

I did learn a lesson though - to chose names that start with different initials and that sound different. Lesson Well learned :)

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Hi, Cyndi: Thanks for the tip about Baby Voyager. Ah, you fell into the "J" trap. Congratulations again on your book!

Hi, Shelly: That's so weird about changing and rejected and changing your selection. The character's name is so important to us, not something to be trifled with. Thank you for stopping.

Jodi said...

Hi, Vicki girl.
Once upon a time, I asked my very successful writing team of a novella series to "consider" changing some of their female MCs from male names, e.g., Jimmi, Billi, Randi, and so on, primarily, because I found myself pausing, briefly wondering if this was one of the male characters - not good, I explained. They mutinied! I folded. =) Other than the above, I've never asked an author to change a character's name. Imho, they're their babies.

Vicki Batman, sassy writer said...

Hi, Joelle. What an interesting story. I can see where the girl version of a male name would be confusing. But if they were locked into that for a reason, then maybe they knew something. A very hard call.

I once read about an editor who really disliked using guy names for girls like Sam for that reason.

Thank you so much for commenting. ox