Posted by: nancykenny | February 9, 2010

What’s In A Name?

I’ve finally gotten back into writing. I know it seems kind of ridiculous to think that someone who blogs as frequently as I do could have any trouble writing, but it’s true. A blog post is easy: random topic on my mind, spout off a few thoughts, proof read as best I can, bing bang boom, done! It’s somewhat short and sweet and that is, as they say, that.

Now I’m going to completely contradict myself here, but I’ve come to realize that writing a play, on the other hand, does in fact scare me. I haven’t figured out yet what I’m so scared of, but I do know I put an awful lot of pressure on myself to “make it perfect” or to have it “be the one” – you know, “the show to end all shows”. Because I’ve created this incredibly high and unattainable ideal in my head, the next logical step, of course, is to never get it done in the first place, right? It can’t be done so why try for anything beneath that?

Jeebus, I am screwed up.

Anyway, I’ve started writing my Derby show again and it is going fairly well. I’ve been reading through all my old notes and I chuckle. I didn’t realize I could be funny.

However, I keep getting stuck on really stupid points. Do you know what I believe to be the hardest part when it comes to writing any piece of literature? Names. I have the hardest f’n time coming up with names. For most of my short playwriting career I’ve managed to cheat my way out of it use the old Neil LaBute approach by going with Man, Woman, Man Two, Angel, Devil, Sweet, Sour, ect… But I’m at the point now where multiple characters are popping up and, gosh darn it, they need names!

I keep thinking I have to be smart and clever with the names. You know, like all those names in the Harry Potter series which have a double-meaning related to the character’s personality. Or that I need to stay away from the names of people I know because they might think the story is about them when really they just happen to have a very common name or a neat unusual name or it was just the first name that came up when I scrolled through Facebook.

It gets even harder when you start thinking up Derby names because many of those might actually belong to a certain player and you may need to get permission before being able to use it. So it might be easier to make some up, but that’s a chore in and of itself.

I know this is just another way for me to procrastinate on my writing, but I’m really curious to know how any other writers out there do it? How do you come up with your character names?



  1. I find it easiest to wait until the play is written, or when inspiration comes, to pick the name (until that happens, they remain man, woman or A and B). I like finding naming sites on the web and going through the names until one feels right. I find it easiest to wait until the play is near (or first draft is complete) done as I have a better idea of who the character is, what their essence is.

    • That’s a totally great idea, Lisa, but my problem pops up when part of my storyline involves picking a Derby name and I don’t have a character name to play off of. I should probably just write the scene and fill in the blanks once inspiration hits.

  2. Dear Nancy,

    Character names are super important to me, and I always try to get them set before I even start in with the serious writing of the play. What a John might say is so different from what a guy named Patton or a guy named Francis or a guy named Sue…

    One thing that has helped me is the profusion of baby name sites on the web. Not just American ones, either! Is your character Cambodian? Chinese American? Just google baby names and the country of choice.

    Another nice tool I found somewhere on line was a government site that listed common-ness of names by birth year. So if your grandmother character was born in 1938, you can see what names she might have had, statistically speaking. More likely a Delores than a Brittney!

    I’ve also been known to skim whatever books I’m near and use various combinations of authors names in a pinch.

    Hope this helps!

    Keep writing!


    • Wow, this really does help!

      Thank you, Ellen.


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