I’m at that point in my new story where I need to settle on some character names. I’m writing a series, so the recurring character names are decided (like them or not). For others, I often grab a moniker for the moment and keep going if the writing is flowing, then go back and search/replace when the perfect name comes to me. Sometimes, the first name that comes to me is the right name. I love it when that happens.

I have also changed the name of main characters after writing the entire novel. I hate when I have to do that. After thinking about a character as “Sierra” for six months, it’s hard to let go of that identity. And now it’s hard to remember her new name when I’m discussing the novel, which is embarrassing. But I changed it because I had too many female characters whose names ended with “a” (the schwa sound).

What I need now are bad guy names, and I feel stumped. So I’m having a contest.(My brother asked me to name one of the antagonists after him, so one down, two to go.) One of the bad guys runs a strip club and various other sleazy deals, and the other is the ultimate con man/misogynist, who puts on one face for the public while engaging in the worst sort of behavior behind the scenes. That’s all I can say without giving away the mystery.

I’ll give away two copies of THE SEX CLUB — one to each of the top two submissions. You can post your submissions in the comments section, which could be fun for others and/or e-mail them to me, using the link on the right.

True character-naming story: When I was writing THE SEX CLUB and needed a name for the psycho bomber lady, I picked Ruth because it’s short, strong, and Biblical. I picked Greiner because it’s the name of a street near my house. Three years later, I was horrified to learn there was a woman named Ruth Greiner who is an avid mystery reader, leads a mystery book club, and is on the same popular mystery list serv that I am. She got wind of the name through a review of THE SEX CLUB in Mystery Scene magazine and e-mailed me to express her displeasure. (So don’t submit one of your relative’s names, unless he/she never reads anything but Mad magazine.)

Even if you don’t enter the contest, share your “I wish I could take it back” character-naming story!

  1. I haven’t run into that yet, though I suspect it will happen when I get published.

    Any info about the bad guy? Ethnicity, appearance, anything like that helps.

  2. Hmmm… for last names, I usually wait for inspiration.

    For first names, here are some:

    Brad (brings to mind “brat”)
    Ernest (who isn’t!)
    Niall (or “The Nail”)
    Neal (“on your knees”)

    Oh yeah, look at a map. Last names can be stolen from names of towns too!

    But I wouldn’t go naming someone Ernest Cincinnati. Readers might catch on to the trick.

  3. I’d love to enter the contest – naming characters is one of my favorite parts of writing – but you’ll have to tell me a little about your character first. I can’t just pick a name out of air; it has to fit him.

    What kind of bad guy is he? Terrorist? Serial killer? Wife beater? Psychopath? Murderer? Is he a bad guy for gain? For love? For revenge? For something else? Does he have a specific ethnicity? What does he look like? Does he have a hobby, or a quirk?

    I’d love a copy of the Sex Club, so help me out here, OK?

  4. Can you give us a little information about the characters?

  5. I wrote a column about that very problem not long ago. The best way to avoid using names of real people for antagaonists is to go to the online People Finder and “How Many of Me” which tells you how many people have that name. I found that my name, Jean Henry Mead, is one of a kind.

    And by the way, someone with the screen name Sun Singer won one of my Village Shattered novels from your blog site. Please have him or her send me a name and address to [email protected] with a subject line, “I’m a winner.”


  6. Hi LJ – I like to play against type. You could make the name a kind of antiphony to the actions if it were seemingly innocent and even a little childlike. So, in that vein:

    First Names: Danny, Jimmy, Ally (is the bad guy a s/he?), Jenny, Fred (Freddy), Faith – names that are easily spoken as a diminutive are interesting in this way. And I have to plump for “Walter” (Walt), it conjures up harmless handyman imagery in my mind (but hey, that’s *my* mind, an admittedly personal landscape!)

    Last Names: Snipes, Packwood (Jenny Packwood), Landon, Tower, Bluestone, Garrett, Juarez (ethnicity? I don’t know. What does the character look like, talk like? Does the way they look, talk, behave play against their name?), Garret (Jenny Garret).

    In general, I like names that are either easy to say (Danny Landon, Jimmy Snipes, Jenny Juarez) or have some connoted ‘meaning’ (Walter Packwood).

    Hope this helps! Oh, have you considered looking in baby naming books. These days, there are dozens of these little compendiums around – you can often pick ’em up on Amazon for pennies!


    -Jeff (lemkin)

  7. The current placeholder name for my villain is Hamlet, only because I expect him and everyone around him to die. This is also an inside joke for my rough draft readers since I been raging against Hamlet-inspired endings at the movies where it seems so unnecessary.

    Unfortunately, most of the character names I have in the rough draft are just place holders. That should change in the next draft when I have a better idea of who’s who.

  8. Clive

    Really need a bit more info.

  9. Sorry for not providing enough information. I worried about giving away the mystery. But here’s a few details.

    One of the bad guys runs a strip club and various other sleazy deals, and the other is the ultimate con man/misogynist, who puts on one face for the public while engaging in the worst sort of behavior behind the scenes. That’s all I can say for now.

  10. Just a few that popped in my head:

    Possible first names:
    Montgomery (Monty for short)

    Possible last names:

  11. Based on your description, open up a copy of the Wall Street Journal and pick a name. There’s a lot of rotten apples to chose from. 😉

  12. Strip club owner: Vincent “Vinnie” Marconi
    Con Man: Charles “Chuck” or “Charlie” Lee

  13. My brain is stumped for names, but you are always welcome to use mine (Fredsti belongs to one family only) if any of your characters are Norwegian!

    Franklin Sounders is my least favorite name given to a character. Too twee! But come to think about it, I got to change it at the last minute.

  14. Con man – Gwydion (Gideon) MacCuhl
    Strip Club owner – Zoran “Zero” Mirkovich

  15. This will be a tough call. Great names from everyone!

  16. Ah, Michelle already suggested the name I had: Vinnie. Maybe she and I have been watching the same movies.
    I’ve used “Harold” a few times for the bad guy, but I’m not sure why I have it in for that name.

  17. I hope you explained to Ruth that you named this character long before you even knew someone who had the name for real. I mean, you didn’t do it on purpose. I hate getting scolded by readers. Usually, though, in my case it’s because of the four letter words in my books.

  18. I wrote Ruth a lovely e-mail, explaining how I came up with the name and offered her a free copy of my next book. So Ruth and I are good, now.

  19. My suggestions:
    For the strip club owner – Randy Cochrane

    For the con man/misogynist – Rick Reason

  20. This is a great contest. Naming characters is fun stuff! I have a name for the strip club owner.

    Stoney West

    [email protected]

  21. Mitch McKonnel

  22. I’ve always thought my maiden name would make a great last name for a bad guy. For obvious reasons, I can’t use it, but perhaps you can. The name is Babula. It’s Polish and there actually is a mystery writer from CA who is also named Babula, although he’s no relation.

    Jan Kozlowski

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.