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Mile 17: Character Names

By now, hopefully, you have written or at least started your first chapter. Congratulations!

If you have, you have probably run into an interesting challenge: creating your characters’ names. Allow me to share with you that it’s not always as easy as it seems. For me, it has been quite a bit of work, but it has become fun.

The most important name you will need is that of your protagonist. The main character of my first Western series is Brock Clemons. The name came from two sources. Brock is what I wanted to name my son. My wife wanted Justin. We compromised and went with Justin. I waited more than 30 years before I got to name another male (my beautiful daughter’s name is Samantha), and so Brock it was. Clemons is an homage to Mark Twain, Samuel Clemons. The two young boys in the series are Huck and Tom, which any fan of Tom Sawyer will immediately recognize.

My character names are often combinations of other names that, for a variety of reasons, I want to tip my hat to. Three of my villains are mixed names from the villains in the television show “Justified.” Similar examples are scattered throughout all my books and short stories.

I made a decision early on that my Indian names, and many Westerns have Indians, would be tribe accurate. I don’t like names like Runs With Deer and Flaming Arrow, so I chose names that are historically accurate and tribe specific. If anyone researched the names I use, they would find that most often, they are names of ancient chiefs from that tribe, in their language. It’s a small thing, but important to me and, I believe, a sign of respect.

Last, in my second book, “Coyote Creek,” I began using friends’ names. I ask first, but people seem to enjoy it. I wind up attaching many of the same character traits and quirks from my friends to my characters, which makes for many fun conversations. The first one I used was my dear friend Frank “Cisco” Hinojosa. I needed a Mexican name, and what could be cooler than Cisco Hinojosa? The problem was, he was supposed to be a minor character, killed off at the end of the chapter. When it came time to do it, I couldn’t. I changed the book and kept Cisco alive, and he’s become one of the main ongoing characters in the “Brock Clemons” series.

My editor, proofreader and source of constant support, Nerissa Stacey, found herself in the books, along with her real-life husband, Nolan. It is a blast working her into every book, as it is with all of my friends.

Of course, you might have different ways of picking your names. It could be as simple as making one up, rolling it around in your head and saying, “This sounds pretty good.” Do it however works for you, but have some fun with it.

BTW – my son’s full name, had it been up to me thirty four years ago, would have been; Aristotle Brockington. As usual, my wife was right.

I wish you good writing and if you have a question, or something you’d like to share, send me an email at [email protected].

Thank you, enjoy and keep writing!

4 Comments on “Mile 17: Character Names

Ken Farmer
September 25, 2018 at 7:38 am

Good stuff, Scott. I do much of the same thing…Friends and so on. My Chickasaw Shaman and also a trained medical doctor in my western series, The Nations, is Doctor Winchester Ashalatubbi for his civilized name (Ashalatubbi is a fairly common Chickasaw and Choctaw surname. His tribal name is Anompoli Lawa, meaning He Who Talks to Many, in the Chickasaw Muskogean tongue. For bad guys, I did a google search for Outlaws in the Indian Nations…Great list of real names. Satan Shields (a black man who had killed six men in a saloon with an axe handle), Little Dime Williams, Tobacco Bob Buckley, Ugly George McSween, Snake Smith, ect.

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JP Blickenstaff
September 25, 2018 at 7:42 am

Hi, like you, I use family and friends for some names. it is fun for them. Sometimes famous people that match that character — almost always Ben or Franklin for the newspaper/printer character. My other source is The New Encyclopedia of the American West. Makes the names relevant to time and place. Blick.

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Chris Crowley
September 25, 2018 at 8:45 am

The adage is ‘write for yourself,’ but salting your friends’ and family names in your books sounds good to me. I’m sure they like it.
I use the names of friends who died young and elaborate on their characters for my stories to honor their memory.

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Doris
September 25, 2018 at 2:53 pm

I head to the local cemetery and look at names for the time period I’m writing about. Plus there is so much history there, it ends up in my own stories.

Most interesting post.

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