Miscellaneous · Writing Tips

Changing Character Names


The Examiner posted their 3-minute review of Take Me Tomorrow, stating, “‘Take Me Tomorrow’ is a fast-paced, character-driven thriller that drops the reader into the middle of a simmering American revolution guided by a well-developed but unknowing protagonist who’s as unpredictable and complex as the plot.” But you can read more about how the “rebel heart beats strong” by clicking here for the full review (or here for the novel on Amazon.)

I would also like to thank Deby Fredericks for nominating ShannonAThompson.com for the One Lovely Blog Award. I filled out my seven facts on my Facebook page (which includes a pretty crazy story about Elvis Presley) but here are my three nominees: Fiction Favorites, Joyce H. Ackley, and A Writer’s Life for Me.

Changing Character Names:

Now, I’ve talked about this briefly before in my post, Naming Your Characters, and I think it’s important to check that out if you’re struggling to pick out names. I explain how to consider history, time, culture, and websites to help you find appropriate, memorable, and symbolic names for your characters. But today, I’m going to go beyond that and assume you now have names. Even if you get a list of symbolic names that fit the characters’ needs, there is still some work that has to be considered. Most of the questions below are ones I have to ask myself, and most of the time, I have at least one of these problems, and – yes – I rename characters when that happens (unless there is a purpose, which I will get into below.) But it’s important to follow step one before continuing.

Create two lists with ALL of your characters names

All includes minor. It even includes that random girl at the coffee shop your protagonist called by name because he read her nametag. It includes that barista, even if you never see her again (or she dies the second she appears.) Why? We’ll get to that in a second. First, you need to make the two lists. One list needs to be an alphabetized list. When characters begin with the same letter, keep them in the same line. When I use Minutes Before Sunset, a small section looks like this:

  • James, Jessica, Jonathon, Jada
  • Luthicer, Linda, Lola
  • Mindy, Mitchel,
  • Noah
  • Pierce

The second list organizes your characters by importance. (It can get tricky, and this one isn’t exactly necessary, but it does help when you’re trying to rotate, cut, or change names and you know you have to sacrifice someone else’s.) Again, if I were using Minutes Before Sunset, that small section above would be very different.

  • Jessica
  • Pierce, Jonathon
  • Luthicer, James
  • Mindy, Noah
  • Linda, Lola, Jada
  • Mitchel

This might help later on if I wanted to cut an “M” name, and I saw Mitchel at the bottom. (He’s actually a student we only see once in Seconds Before Sunrise.)

Original picture by name berry.com
Original picture by name berry.com

But now that you have the lists, here are some questions to consider:

  • Are all of your characters’ names similar in sound?
  • Are all of your characters’ names similar in the beginning or ending?
  • Are all of your characters’ names similar in syllables?
  • If they are similar, is there a purpose behind it?
  • Have you used these names before?

Now, unless there is a reason – like two brothers having similar names because they’re named after the same person – then, these issues are…well…issues, especially if 13 or your 20 characters start with the same letter. But there is no reason to panic. (Even if you are attached to the names you picked out, it’s okay. I promise.) I know I have had almost all of these problems, and when I faced them, my cast of characters became easier to decipher and understand. In fact – here’s a fun fact – I write almost all of my novels with the exact same character names: Magatha, Laurel, Tyler, Anthony, “D” names for the male protagonist, and “S” names for the female protagonist are just a few of my habits. This almost always happens, despite the fact that the characters aren’t similar to previous characters at all. So I write my novels without worrying about it, but I force myself to go back and change everything later. Why does this happen? I have no clue. I think it’s just how my brain works. But I know that I can’t have the same names in every book (even though the name Noah appears in both The Timely Death Trilogy and Take Me Tomorrow) and I know I can’t have too many similar sounding names. For instance, in the original version of Minutes Before Sunset, the Stone brothers were named Brent and Brenthan. (Yes. That seriously slipped my mind.) However, in the published version, the Stone brothers were renamed Jonathon and Brenthan. I kept similar endings to retain the similarities I wanted for the brothers, but I changed enough so that they were no longer confusing. Do I still accidentally type Brent every now and then? Yes. It’s embarrassing when an editor finds it. But I change it and move on, and I fall in love with their new names, slowly realizing how confusing their similar names once were.

But – speaking of similar names – you might have noticed that there was a new name on the list I used from The Timely Death Trilogy. Jada hasn’t been seen yet. She will be introduced in Death Before Daylight. For those of you who are wondering, I hit the 40,000 word mark yesterday, so I’m about halfway through, and I have updated the progress bar on the right side of my website.

I’m looking forward to giving you more updates, but I’m also looking forward to seeing your writing tips! Share your experiences with changing names once you chose them below, and we’ll help others who are struggling to find that perfect fit.


21 thoughts on “Changing Character Names

  1. I think that your strategy is great; I should have thought about it when I started writing.

    Instead, I asked friends to donate on my Indiegogo campaign; whoever donated money got his/her name in the book. My characters were mainly named after these people!

    Perhaps not the most scientific way of naming characters but it was a quick way to choose names! Thank you for your beautiful post.

  2. Great post! I am currently developing my characters for my first novel and have created my first “run” of character names as I am sure they may change before I am finished, lol. It’s interesting to read about your experience with name patterns in fiction writing. Something that I never really thought of in the past, but it does makes sense! Thanks!

  3. Names can be awkward! If I haven’t a definite name I close my eyes and go down my bookshelves and point at a book for the surname, then another for the first name. Works surprisingly well. In one novel I also had a universal set of bad people so used the same name but in many translations using Google Translate.

  4. Interesting system. I go with the meticulous choosing at the beginning since I tend to do the name before anything else. I have been told that I can only use a name once even between series, which strikes me as odd with names like Michael, John, and Jennifer. I would think some names would be common in even fictional worlds.

    To date, I’ve only done two major name changes. One was a minor character that got promoted to high-level supporting cast, but her name was too similar to her love interest. I used the name in a later book for something else. The other was a top tier villain who was originally designed by the game who ran the D&D game my books were influenced by. I found out what the character’s first name meant (Loquacious = elegant chatterbox) and didn’t think it fit.

    1. Yeah – I’ve heard that readers don’t like writers to use the same names in different novels or series. I still break that rule if the name is really important. (Like Noah in Take Me Tomorrow and The Timely Death Trilogy) Thanks for sharing your story about D&D! That’s really interesting.

      1. I can understand the same series having some issues. But if an author has 30+ series then repetition might be needed. Otherwise you get names like Ryptrefon in the later ones. Odd how randomly hitting touchpad letters made that.

  5. This is great advice. I keep a list of characters for all my novels and update it as I write.

    Also, for me, I tend to go through the alphabet in order to make sure I have some variety. For example, in a short story I wrote the protagonist is named Alex Baker, the next character introduced was named Caitlin Dawson, and the third character introduced was Ellie Baker, Alex’s sister. A-B-C-D-E. I don’t always have the characters introduced through alphabetical order and I also sometimes break that rule if a character pops up with a random name that just seems to suit him or her.

    I loved the picture, too. I bought a baby name book a long time ago and the cashier kept asking me questions and before I knew it he said, “good luck with the baby!”

    1. That is such a funny story about the baby names book! I sort of had that happen in a college class once. I was on Babynames.com before class started, and I didn’t think about closing it as a student came up and asked for my help. When I helped them, they congratulated me and left. I didn’t have any idea what they were talking about until I looked back at my computer. I about died from laughter.

  6. Seems like I have to change a character name in almost every novel. In my latest, The Grimhold Wolf, I actually had to change a young girl into a teenaged boy! The things you find out after the story is written…

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