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What’s in a name?

Updated: May 1, 2021

What's in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet. William Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet)

The new year is looming, which means getting ready to write short stories for competitions and for publication. My favourite competitions—which I will list below—have already released their themes, helping me to think, plan, plot and draft my stories.

The very first thing I do is think about my character, and a very close second is their name. For me, the character's name informs my writing. The way they look, their personality and their occupation. Once named, I go searching the internet for an image that matches the character’s name. I always have an image of what they look like in my mind. It all starts with my imagination.

But don't let me fool you, as I was once fooled. I do not name my character, my character names themselves.

I stumbled upon the Character Names website when I procrastinating while planning a short story for my creative writing masters. The website notes down tips on choosing character names:

  • Find a name that matches the age. Unless your character's personality or situation requires an old fashion name. Be aware of when your character was born and google the common names in that year or decade. One of my characters is a twenty-nine-year-old Australian man living in 1964. To find his name, I completed a search on the "boys’ names in the 1930s". In another contemporary story, my character is quirky and comes from an eccentric family. I named her Penelope.

  • Make sure the names are easy to pronounce. I have read some books where the character (author) has helped with the pronunciation phonetically in dialogue. Be careful how you would do this as it can across a bit contrite. My stories have an Italian flavour, as I draw a lot of my stories from my family's heritage, and I use Italian names. When choosing my names, I make sure they are easy to pronounce or use names that are common.

  • This leads onto the third point, think about the background, culture, when they were born and where they live. Think about the parents they had. My husband used to work with a young woman whose parents were hippies. They named her Rainbow Summerbreeze*. Parents usually stick to a specific style or traditions. I had a friend who named all her daughters after flowers.

  • This one is an important point. One that is usually told to all new writers. Although I’m surprised at how many novels I’ve read do not do this. For stories, it is imperative that you follow this rule. Do not use the same first letter for your characters. Make sure they sound different, including the endings. This will help the reader differentiate between your characters. The only exception, I feel, are picture books. Australian Author, Danny Parker’s award-winning picture book, Molly & Mae, has two sisters with the same starting letter, but they sound different.

  • This one is an important point. One that is usually told to all new writers. Although I am surprised at how many novels I read that do not do this. For short stories, it is imperative that you follow this rule. Do not use the same first letter for your characters and ensure they sound different; including the endings. This will help the reader differentiate between your characters. The only exception, I feel, are picture books. Australian Author's award-winning picture book

  • Make sure the first name suits the surname. I like to use short syllable names with a longer syllable one. I also avoid names with similar sound endings. This prevents the reader from tripping when reading the two names together.

  • The genre can also determine the names you will use. However, I usually add a spin onto my character names and break the stereotype. In Romance stories, I try to avoid names such as Hunter or Brody. For me, female names don't seem to give off a stereotypical aura, as male names do**.

  • Avoid using the characters' names in dialogue. Dialogue needs to be authentic and realistic. Listen to people talk. They don't use names when they’re talking. Adding a distinctive character trait when you first introduce a character will also help your reader know who’s talking. This also comes down the development of the character’s voice.

  • I always use names that have meaning for my characters. It is important that you check the meaning to make sure it suits your character. I love the surname Russo, which means 'red' in Italian. I have a character that has a fiery temper and so have used it. In the novel, and movie, The Hunger Games, Katniss is a plant that has leaves shaped like an arrowhead. It's also a source of food American Indians foraged for. One of Katniss' skill was finding food to feed her family.

  • Finally, have fun. The best part about being pregnant was finding a name for my child. I also remember as teenagers, my friends and I would share our top five names we'd name our children. If I could've had more children; if I had a full-time, life-time nanny, cleaner and was rich 🤣🤣🤣, I would've had a ball finding names for them all. Instead, I find the joy in naming my characters. It's a lot cheaper too.

For me, the fun starts as I create my characters for all my fiction, including short stories. As promised, below is a list of the competitions I plan to enter throughout 2021. If you are reading this in the future, you can use the links to access their current competitions. Most of them update their pages. If not, use the general URL and locate their competition section on their website.

2021 Short Story Competitions and Publications

Romance Writers Association Australia: Sweet Treats Short Story Competition. Theme: Chocolate. 1500 words. Deadline: 25 January 2021

Romance Writers Association Australia: Spicy Bites Short Story Competition. Theme: Demin. 1500 words. Deadline: 25 January 2021

Bridge House Short Story Submission: Theme (2021): Resolutions. 4000 words. Deadline 28 February 2021

Stringy Bark Short Story Competition. Theme: Open. 1500 words. Deadline - Deadline: 31 January 2021

Bristol Short Story Competition. Theme: Open. 4000 words. Deadline - 5 May 2021

Bridport Prize Short Story Competition. Theme: Open. 5000 words. Deadline - 31 May 2021

Newcastle Short Story Competition. Theme: Open. 2000 words. Deadline 14 April 2021

Happy writing,


* For privacy, I have taken two names from the three siblings to provide the example. The individual names are authentic.

** Please note that writing is subjective and some names may suit your work. Always be true to your writing. Especially when it comes to the actual names you do choose.

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