Naming Characters in Peril: Fast Track Thriller #1

Have you ever wondered where authors come up with names for their characters? 
Suzanne Hartmann never really thought about it until she started writing fiction and had to name her own characters. Since her debut novel just released, and my daughter got us thinking about names on Monday, I invited Suzanne to share how she came up with the ones for her characters.

Before she does, let me tell you a little about Suzanne.
She’s a homeschool mom of three who lives in the St. Louis area. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Composition & Linguistics from Western Illinois University. To relax, she enjoys scrapbooking, reading, and Bible study. She began writing fiction when her children were young, and four of her short stories were published in a Milliken Publishing reading workbook. PERIL: Fast Track Thriller Bk. #1 is her debut novel.
On the editorial side, Suzanne is a contributing editor with Port Yonder Press and operates the Write This WayCritique Service. Through her blog, Write This Way, she has become known as an author who can explain writing rules and techniques in easy-to-understand terms. Her popular Top 10 series of articles formed the basis for her e-book on the craft of writing, Write This Way: Take Your Writing to a New Level
Take it away Suzanne…
Thanks for having me Sandra. First let me give you some background about the book so you can see how the characters fit in.
PERIL: Fast Track Thriller #1
A top secret agent with enhanced strength must use her extraordinary abilities during several high-profile assignments, from the White House to NASCAR tracks, while escorting the first Muslim king to convert to Christianity. When unwanted publicity threatens to expose her, she herself becomes a terrorist target, with danger surrounding her on all sides.
And now, how I created their names:
Lady Anne – For some reason, I just always knew what this character’s name was. I never really had to think about it.

Stuart Jackson – Like the character himself, his name is a compilation. I wanted the character to be an average NASCAR driver, so I gave him characteristics similar to a number of well-known drivers. I continued that by giving him first and last names that are similar to well-known drivers.

Joanne Van der Haas – When I first created the stories I eventually combined together to create The Race that Lies Before Us, they were “what if” stories about me. What if I were in this situation? What if I could do this? What if I had this type of job? So I came up with a name that is similar to my own name.

King Ahmad – I wanted a common Arabic name, one that wouldn’t necessarily be associated with a particular country since I made up a fictional postage-stamp country for him. So I did an on-line search for Arabic names and picked one.
Neil Van der Haas – I envisioned blue-eyed, blond-headed Neil to be of Dutch descent, so I gave him parents who came to the U.S. from the Netherlands. For his given name, I came up with a Dutch name, Nels, that could be easily converted to an English name. For his last name, I came up with a Dutch-sounding name that is similar to the Dutch last name of a penpal I wrote to for years.

Troy Collins – I combined the name of two towns I’ve lived in: Troy and Collinsville.
Ambassador Bainsworth – The ambassador is a self-centered person, so I wanted to give him a name that seemed like it needed “the third” or something like that added afterwards.
John Blaszczyk (blaschik) – John is Stuart’s pilot, and always good for a little humor. Since he has such a generic first name, I thought it would be funny to give him a last name that no one can pronounce. So I did a search for Slavic surnames

Stuart’s sister – Although she’s not a character in this book, when I needed to mention Stuart’s sister, I wanted to give her a name. So I came up with a name that starts with “st” like Stuart’s does.
Please take a short hop to visit with the main characters from PERIL and see if their names fit them. I have created fictional interviews for each to introduce you to the characters and the brand new novel they star in. Click this link: CHARACTER INTERVIEWS
Your Turn: Writers, what techniques do you use to name your characters? Do you have any funny stories about how a character came to be named or “told” you what his or her name was?


To celebrate the release of her debut novel, Suzanne is giving away a Kindle to one lucky winner!
The contest runs through the end of her blog tour (Dec. 16). She will announce the winner on Sat. Dec. 17.

To enter, click here: WIN A KINDLE


  • Normally I use a random name generator to suggest names, then pick the ones that sound right when coupled with a particular character. A few of my characters I’ve taken famous (dead) authors names and changed them drastically. I’ve even been lucky enough to have a character name herself. She just came and introduced herself, and it was a perfect fit.

  • Love this, Imogen–I’ve even been lucky enough to have a character name herself. She just came and introduced herself! Only writers can talk about the people talking in their heads without being carted off to the mental ward. 🙂

  • You’re very methodical in picking out your names. I tend to just roll through some in my head until one sounds right. I also like to know the name’s meaning to see if it fits with my story. 🙂

  • So interesting how you writers come up with names!!! I am anxious to read your book, Suzanne. Want to thank you for your blog that is so informative (WTW). Happy Thanksgiving to all!!!

  • Yes, Jessica, I like to look up meanings too and use the name books like, Jeanette. One friend of mine had a poll on her FB page for the name of one of her characters. It was fun seeing suggestions pour in.

    Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Jackie and all my American friends. 🙂

  • I use name books, but I choose names that mean certain qualities my characters have.

    My hardest thing to do is choose last names. Or in one of my books, my heroine is named Chris. I will never have a character with a name that ends in “s” again. All the creative ways I had to come up with to alleviate all the Chris’s and such was insane. 😉

    Also, making sure your hero and heroine have variable syllables and don’t both end in “y” and silly things like that. It’s been a learning experience.

  • Oh, Katy, I just experienced that with a last name I’d picked: Nicholls…changing it, now. 🙂 I also had the “y” thing happening in one of my books. LOL.

    The thing that throws me off as a reader is when a book starts with a name like Chris that could be a guy or girl. I immediately think it’s a guy and it might be a few paragraphs before “she” is used to reference her and I have to totally realign my thinking.

Great to "see" you here today! I look forward to reading your comment.