Naming Roulette

I have a pretty basic system when it comes to naming characters in anything I write. I put whatever music source I happen to be listening to at the time on random, and take the name of the artist that comes up next. Once it a blue moon I’ll come up with a name differently, but that’s almost always how I do it.

In my recently published story ‘On The House’ the main characters are named on Lisa and Tom. The names come from me listening to a mix of 90’s music at the time. Tom comes from ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ by Tom Petty (R.I.P), and Lisa comes from Lisa Loeb and the Nine Stories ‘Stay’. The other couple in the story is named after characters from the comic ‘Akira’, largely because I don’t have a great deal of Asian music.

Lisa Loeb and Tom Petty

I don’t know how other writers and authors name their characters. I always assume most writers character names tend to have some deeper meaning, but mine generally don’t.

A few years back I wrote a scene in an aborted NaNoWriMo story making fun of myself and how I name characters. In it a guy picks up a hitchhiker who has Amnesia and decides he needs to call him something, so they put the radio on and decide to go with whatever name comes first. I thought I’d share it because I still think it’s funny.

“So you remember stuff, just nothing to actually do with you?” Alan asked.

“Pretty much. For instance I know this is the Smiths playing on the radio, but I couldn’t say where or when I’ve ever heard it before.”

“That’s so weird.”


The rode along for a while in silence. They were cruising down the highway doing seventy five or so. There was very little to look at out the windows.

“Not even your name?”


“Huh. Did you go through your pockets or check your underwear?”

“Check my underwear for what?”

“Your name?”

“Why would I have written my name in my underpants?”

“I dunno. People do that sort of thing?”

“Who does that sort of thing?”

“Who wakes up in a shed and smells like cat piss?”


They both stopped talking for a while. Alan was the first to break the silence, “What should I call you?”

“I said I don’t know.” He responded with irritation.

“Well you don’t have to snap. I could just call you cat piss.”  Alan said, failing to keep the hurt from his voice. He was a sensitive guy.

“Hah. Ok, good point. How about, uh, the name of the next artist to come on the radio.”

Alan laughed and the tension broke. The station was on an ad break and they both listened intently once the commercial drew to a close.

A scratchy voice and a beat started playing, “This is some of the lingua-fringa of the funk business..” it began.

“So,” said Alan, “Please to meet you Coolio.”

“Ok, next song.” he responded with a laugh.

Twenty minutes later the radio station’s 90’s rap block had ended with the vetoing of the names Dr. Dre, Snoop Dog, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Alan had given an impassioned argument for the adoption of ODB but eventually had to admit that it was a little too on the nose. The next song was ‘Drown’ by Son Volt.

“Jay it is.” He said.

“Please to meet you Jay.”

Jay reached over and shook Alan’s hand.

“I appreciate the ride.”

“Anytime. You know ODB went by other names…” he trailed off.

“No.” Jay replied.

“Dirt McGirt?”


“Joe Bananas?”


“Big Baby Jesus?”


“Excellent. Hungry?”

“I could eat a horse.”

They drove to the next exit that promised food.

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