Just Call Me Linda McCormick—Not

When people learned that I had a novel about to be published a few of them asked if I was going to use a penname. I’ll admit it sounded a bit strange to me at first. I hadn’t even considered it. I’d had work published in literary magazines without ever once considering the use of another name. I know there are people out there who do, and they likely have their reasons, reasons that make perfect sense for their circumstances. I see nothing wrong with it if that’s the way a writer chooses to go.

I always thought that if I had a book published I wanted to be the one to take the credit.  Maybe if I was a big name author, like Stephen King, I might write under another name as he does with some of his work. But his reasons for doing so seems to make sense. I can’t imagine that someday I’ll suddenly start writing, say, romance or horror. In fact I can’t see myself writing anything other than what I write. But, as they say, never say never.

As a kid, I often used the name Linda during my times of make-believe. That was me, Linda McCormick, always getting myself into scrapes, and getting back out again. (I had a vivid imagination as a child. What writer doesn’t? Heck, what child doesn’t?) I have no idea why I chose that name. It hardly sounded glamorous, yet that was the name I chose. I guess even back then I had trouble coming up with any original sounding names. Imagine being able to pick any name in the book, and I chose Linda McCormick. Go figure! I don’t think Linda ever did any writing; she was all about the drama. Cooking up schemes and then coming up with solutions. (I’m sure you all know how that works.)

Concocting names for my fictitious characters is challenging enough for me without trying to come up with a super new name to write under. I have a few baby books that I thumb through when I’m on the hunt for a name. After all, it’s a pretty important thing. I like to give it a certain amount of consideration. The name has to strike me right. I have to look it over and see if it fits. I like to know a bit about my character before I begin naming them although, there have been times when the name was sitting there on my tongue just waiting for a character to come along and fill in the blanks. Sometimes, when a name doesn’t jump out at me, I give it a little time. Just as like it takes time for a new pair of shoes to feel comfy, sometimes it takes awhile for a name to grow on me.

Coming up with last names is the most challenging for me. That’s where I usually draw a blank. I start stealing names the last names from people I know or else starting thinking Smith or Jones. That goes to show you how original I can be! So don’t laugh when I tell you that I usually turn to the obituary column or the phone book. Again, I like to use something memorable. Of course every name in the stories we write can’t be something exotic with thirty-five letters. Every once in awhile we have to throw in a Jane or a Tom just to keep our writing in balance.

So how about you, do you find it challenging to come up with a name for your fictitious characters? Do you have any tricks to share of how you go about choosing names? What about when you were little. Did you ever use an assumed name as a child? If so, what was it? Do you now use, or plan to use, a penname in the future? Wow! I’m really full of questions today. Aren’t I? Oops there goes another question. Silly me.

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  1. My current WIP has seen many names for my protagonist. I like that I’m not committed to choosing a name for good until the first draft is finished. By then I know if I’ve named my characters incorrectly. Sometimes “Suzie” just doesn’t cut it when “Kira” is the name shouting out at me. The same with “Stephen” when “Justin or Jason” is the name I keep hearing in my head.

    The name “Joylene” has always been a bother. Almost every time I give my name I have to stop and pronounce it a dozen times before people hear joyleen instead of joleen. I tell them, “Think Darlene, Marlene, Arlene, Charlene, J O Y L E N E.”

    I fantasized being called Dawn when I was a preteen. Then it was Brigitte as in Brigitte Bardot. I also liked Cory. Joylene sounded too prissy, not at all like the tomboy I was.

    Great post, Laura. I haven’t thought about this stuff for ages.

    Why couldn’t my mum have named me something easy like “Anna”?

    • I will say, I’m not sure I know any other Joylene’s. It certainly isn’t a common name in my neck of the woods, but I’ve always felt that unusual names are memorable. That’ll be to your advantage once your next book comes out..:)

      Yeah, I know how to drudge up things that most people haven’t thought of in years. Guess that’s just how my mind works.

  2. Coming up with character names is an adventure. For me – ‘Jack’ was easy, but t last name Rackham came later when the MS for Bad Latitude was almost finished. I have a new character in Reckless – 16-year-old Rachel Lane. A homeless girl taken in by the Rackham clan – Lots of “storyline” there, which I won’t bore you with. The source of her name? Lived on ‘Rachel Lane’ before moving south.

    No penname – aliases, etc for me. Good post.

    • Rachel Lane–I like that name. And you aren’t going to bore me with your storyline. It sounds intriguing, what little bit you spared, that is.

      Ah I was hoping you would have a penname somewhere hidden away. Dang it!

    • Pam Chamberlain

       /  July 22, 2010

      Ah, Rackham is a name you don’t hear a lot in Canada. It was my grandmother’s maiden name.
      Did you know there was a pirate called Black Jack Rackham?

      • Pam – Funny you would mention that…. seeing as how my character (15 year-old Jack Rackham) is a descendant. Calico Jack has a much bigger role in the 2nd book, which starts out with the old pirate’s hanging in Port Royal Jamaica in 1720. We are a piratey bunch down here in Florida.

        My grandmother was from Nova Scotia – so there’s the Canadian connection goin’ on. Have a nice day. (Sorry Laura, not takin’ over your blog or anything!)

  3. In my last novel, my male MC just announced his name, first and last. The first name for one female character, as far as I remember, just came to me, but she had Danish ancestry, so I did a bit of geographical research for that one. The younger female was a challenge because she started as a wealthy, spoiled blonde and ended up a poor, streetwise brunette. The first name I’d picked for the blonde, didn’t fit the brunette. So I pulled up the census name search site and looked at popular names for the year she was born.

    I never use the names of my family members for characters, not because I’m writing about them. It’s just a bit of superstition.

    • Forgot to say, I’ve considered using a pen name BECAUSE my name is Linda! :D

      • Good idea, searching out popular names for that year. Very Good!

        Oh but Linda Cassidy Lewis will look SO great on a book jacket. It does have a certain ring to it. Much better than Linda McCormick I say. :)

  4. Hi Laura – first, congratulations of your nomination – that is fantastic!! Great news and yes what an honour in whatever way it plays out. Good luck!

    My characters are usually born with a name, however I notice that I have a tendency to name characters within a story/novel with names that begin with the same letters. I try to change it up, seeing which names really belong to the characters and then try to mix up the rest. And yes, the name I remember wishing I had as a little girl was Julie – it sounded so glamourous to me at the time :)

    Great to see you doing so well!

    • And congratulations on your little bundle Jennifer! So nice to see your face in my comments section. I do look at the nomination as an honour. It’s pretty cool! No pangs of disappoint if someone else wins. They are all deserving.

      I’ve heard other authors say that they tend to pick names with the same letter and I’ve caught myself doing it a time or two. It can make it a bit confusing for the reader sometimes.

      It’s looking like this fantasy name game is a girl thing. Maybe that’s so!

  5. Names stop me cold. Characters, places, town, pets, stores. I have such a problem with it. My pen name went through a couple of iterations, too. I’m using one because no one can ever spell my real name. Hee.

    I once wrote a story where my heroine’s name was four letters and started with G, the hero’s brother’s name was four letters and started with G, and the brother’s nickname was four letters and started with G. I really liked the brother’s nickname so I changed the name of my heroine.

    • I think your penname is pretty “sharpe.” Wow! that was bad, but there you go. It’s memorable and I like that. Sounds good especially for the genre you write in, Gayle.

  6. If I can’t think of an appropriate name for a character, I use a random name generator or baby name site to get ideas.

    I haven’t considered using a pen name, and doubt I’ll ever need one. Like you, if I write a book I’d like to get credit for it. :)

    • I have a name baby site bookmarked as well which I have turned to in the past when I couldn’t find a name that sort of jumped out at me from my baby name book.

  7. I learned one thing about naming characters and that is to try typing their names out a few times before I decide to keep them. I wrote a medieval romance in which the villain’s name was Philip. A one-hand name for a couple of hundred pages was not fun. On the pen name topic, my last name is already claimed by a couple of mystery writers in Canada. I decided that if I ever had a mystery published that I would use my maiden name, which is Dark. Much better for a mystery, I think.

    • Your last name is perfect for a writer :) But there ya go, it’s already been taken. Dark, is a very mysterious name. Very unique. Don’t think I’ve ever heard it before. There are so many wonderful last names out there. The unusual ones are often the ones we remember.

  8. Pam Chamberlain

     /  July 22, 2010

    I often have to try out several names on a character before I find one that seems right. I agree with Heather–if a name is a pain to type, I usually get rid of it.

    Yes, I had an alter ego name when I was a kid and it has lasted my whole life. I still think of myself by that name sometimes…

    • Okay, so you’re not going to tell us your alter ego’s name..Shucks, I might have to take a guess. Must be “Wonder woman.”

  9. I’ve spent hours working out annagrams of my name that I could use as a pen name. It’s a fun exercise and sometimes the results are ridiculous. In the end though, I’ve decided that if I’m not confident enough in my writing to put my own name on it, then it’s not worth sending out.

    • I always felt I wanted my name to go on my work. I never thought that using a pseudonym would be a way of hiding. I guess you could hide from everyone else but not from yourself. I could see where some people might not have the confidence to use their own name, though.

  10. I love your discussion here! I love choosing names for my characters; they’re usually Brazilian names: Paulo, Rosa, Antonio, Marcello, Claudia, etc. My characters are all either Brazilian or Brazilian-American. I go with a gut feeling and search around until the name seems to suit them. I just recently went back to a story that I had completed and changed the main characters’ names, and the story felt more “right” afterwards.

    When I was young, my name was Marcelle, after my father. My mother changed it to Juliana because this sounds more “American.” I often think about this now, and for awhile I was incensed that she changed my name like that. LOL. I’m not upset anymore. It’s my name now and suits the person I’ve become, though before I thought it was too flowery, too pretty.

    Thank you for this thought-provoking post, Laura!

  1. a woman with many names « Shakti Mama

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