Friday, September 28, 2018


For some reason, choosing the name of the heroine of a story is hard for me—much harder than naming the hero. I’m wondering if it’s because, as women, we give more thought to what we find attractive in a man (naturally!) Even if he’s “Hunk of the Week,” if his name doesn’t appeal to us, it’s hard to think of him romantically. This is true not only in my writing, but in my reading. If the names don't fit, I have to mentally substitute another one to take the place of what the author has decided on.

I think as we write, we are seeing our heroines from a different perspective. They are…us. So, naming them might not be as important in our minds, since secretly, we are them. (No, we can’t use our own name!)

The various heroines of our stories, while different in some respects, still retain qualities of ourselves that we’ve endowed them with. If you look at the heroines you’ve created, though they come from different places and circumstances and have different views of the world, there are some basic things about them that don’t change--even from different time periods.

There are at least three basic considerations for naming our heroines, apart from the obvious ones.(time period, setting, etc.)

The first one is, understanding the heroine and her motives.

Let’s look a minute at how a part of ourselves creep into our heroines’ lives, no matter what sub-genre we write. I always think of two examples that stand out in my own life experience that are easy to show.

Growing up in the 1960’s, women had three basic career opportunities: teacher, secretary, nurse. Those limitations didn’t matter, because I wanted to be a nurse ever since I could recall. But because my parents discouraged me from that field, I never pursued it—except in my writing.

At some point, in every story I write, that aspect of myself comes through in my heroine. There is always a need for her to use her nursing skills, and it’s usually to take care of the wounded hero. (In a Cheryl Pierson story, the hero will always be hurt somewhere along the way. Much like the guys with the red shirts on Star Trek know they won't be beaming back to the Enterprise from the planet’s surface, my heroes always have to figure they’re going to need some kind of medical care to survive my story.)

Another consideration is, that we must like the heroine.

She is us! Have you ever started writing a story after carefully picking names for your hero and heroine, only to discover you really don’t like the character herself; or maybe, when you write the name of the character, you feel your lip starting to curl? Is it the name itself you don’t like after repetitive use, or is it the character you’ve created? Either way, there’s a problem. Stop and consider exactly what it is about that character/name you have started to dislike. Remember, the heroine is part of you. If you’re hitting a rough spot in real life, it could be you are injecting some of those qualities into your character unwittingly. There may be nothing wrong with the name you’ve selected…it could just be your heroine has taken an unforeseen character turn that you aren’t crazy about.

Being a child of an alcoholic father, I do not like surprises. I want to know that things will be steady, stable and secure. But what can be certain in a tale of romance? Nothing! Just as the hero of my stories is going to be physically in jeopardy at some point, the heroine will always have to make a decision— a very hard decision—as to whether she will give up everything that she’s built her life around for the hero. Will she take a chance on love? In the end, of course, it’s always worth the gamble. But, because I am not a risk-taker in real life, my heroines carry that part of me, for the most part, with them—until they have to make a hard choice as to whether or not to risk everything for the love of the hero.

The third consideration is that we have to give her a name that reflects her inner strengths but shows her softer side.

This is not a dilemma for male characters. We don’t want to see a soft side—at least, not in this naming respect.

I try to find a name for my heroines that can be shortened to a pet name or nickname by the hero. (Very handy when trying to show the closeness between them, especially during those more intimate times.)

I always laugh when I think about having this conversation with another writer friend of mine, Helen Polaski. She and I were talking one day about this naming of characters, and I used the example of one of my favorite romances of all time, “Stormfire” by Christine Monson. The heroine’s name is Catherine, but the hero, at one point, calls her “Kitten.” Later, he calls her “Kit”—which I absolutely love, because I knew, even though “Kit” was short for Catherine, that he and I both were thinking of the time he’d called her “Kitten”—and so was she! Was “Kit” a short version of Catherine for him, or was he always thinking of her now as “Kitten”? Helen, with her dry northern humor, replied, “Well, I guess I’m out of luck with my name. The hero would be saying, ‘Oh, Hel…’”

One final thought to weigh is the way your characters’ names go together; the way they sound and “fit.” Does the heroine’s name work well not only with the hero’s first name, but his last name, too? In most cases, eventually his last name will become hers. Last names are a ‘whole ’nother’ blog!

In 1880, the top ten female names were, in order from 1 (most popular) to 10: Mary, Anna, Emma, Elizabeth, (4), Minnie, Margaret, Ida, Alice, Bertha, and Sarah (10).
(Picture above is of my grandmother, Mary Elizabeth, and sisters Emma and Cora)

By 1980, they’d changed drastically: Jennifer, Amanda, Jessica, Melissa, Sarah (5), Heather, Nicole, Amy, Elizabeth (9) and Michelle.
(My daughter Jessica, taken a few years ago)

Twenty-eight years later, in 2008, there seemed to be a resurgence toward the “older” names: Emma, which was completely out of the top twenty in 1980, had resurfaced and taken the #1 spot, higher than it had been in 1880. The others, in order, are: Isabella, Emily, Madison, Ava, Olivia, Sophia, Abigail, Elizabeth (9), and Chloe. Sarah was #20, being the only other name besides Elizabeth that remained in the top twenty on all three charts.

If you write historicals, these charts are great to use for minor and secondary characters as well. If you’ve chosen a name for your heroine that’s a bit unusual, you can surround her with “ordinary” characters to provide the flavor of the time period, while enhancing her uniqueness.

Names can also send “subliminal” messages to your reader. I wrote my short story, “A NIGHT FOR MIRACLES,” about a couple that meet under odd circumstances and experience their own miracle on Christmas Eve. Halfway through the story, I realized what I’d done and the significance of the characters’ names--Nick and Angela (Angel, he calls her).

What do you think? How do you choose your names for your female characters? What are your favorites? I'm giving away a print copy of my single author anthology A HERO FOR CHRISTMAS to one commenter today--be sure to let us know your favorite heroines' names!

Cheryl's Amazon Author Page:

In this excerpt, widow Angela Bentley has taken in a wounded stranger and the three children who are with him on a cold, snowy night. Here’s what happens:


Angela placed the whiskey-damp cloth against the jagged wound. The man flinched, but held himself hard against the pain. Finally, he opened his eyes. She looked into his sun-bronzed face, his deep blue gaze burning with a startling, compelling intensity as he watched her. He moistened his lips, reminding Angela that she should give him a drink. She laid the cloth in a bowl and turned to pour the water into the cup she’d brought.

He spoke first. “What…what’s your name?” His voice was raspy with pain, but held an underlying tone of gentleness. As if he were apologizing for putting her to this trouble, she thought. The sound of it comforted her. She didn’t know why, and she didn’t want to think about it. He’d be leaving soon.

“Angela.” She lifted his head and gently pressed the metal cup to his lips. “Angela Bentley.”
He took two deep swallows of the water. “Angel,” he said, as she drew the cup away and set it on the nightstand. “It fits.”

She looked down, unsure of the compliment and suddenly nervous. She walked to the low oak chest to retrieve the bandaging and dishpan. “And you are…”

“Nick Dalton, ma’am.” His eyes slid shut as she whirled to face him. A cynical smile touched his lips. “I see…you’ve heard of me.”

A killer. A gunfighter. A ruthless mercenary. What was he doing with these children? She’d heard of him, all right, bits and pieces, whispers at the back fence. Gossip, mainly. And the stories consisted of such variation there was no telling what was true and what wasn’t.

She’d heard. She just hadn’t expected him to be so handsome. Hadn’t expected to see kindness in his eyes. Hadn’t expected to have him show up on her doorstep carrying a piece of lead in him, and with three children in tow. She forced herself to respond through stiff lips. “Heard of you? Who hasn’t?”

He met her challenging stare. “I mean you no harm.”

She remained silent, and he closed his eyes once more. His hands rested on the edge of the sheet, and Angela noticed the traces of blood on his left thumb and index finger. He’d tried to stem the blood flow from his right side as he rode. “I’m only human, it seems, after all,” he muttered huskily. “Not a legend tonight. Just a man.”

He was too badly injured to be a threat, and somehow, looking into his face, she found herself trusting him despite his fearsome reputation. She kept her expression blank and approached the bed with the dishpan and the bandaging tucked beneath her arm. She fought off the wave of compassion that threatened to engulf her. It was too dangerous. When she spoke, her tone was curt. “A soldier of fortune, from what I hear.”

He gave a faint smile. “Things aren’t always what they seem, Miss Bentley.”

A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to include four of my Christmas novellas in a single author collection, A HERO FOR CHRISTMAS. I will be giving away one print copy of this anthology to a commenter, so be sure to leave a comment about your favorite heroines' names and why you love them! And don't forget to add your contact info!


  1. I do take a great deal of time with names and I realize how important it is to keep the name historically correct, strong, and pleasing to the ear. While doing massive revisions on my fantasy trilogy (Legends of Winatuke) I realized the name I gave the heroine in the first book was totally wrong--wrong for the time period, sappy instead of strong, and I just didn't like it. Period. So I changed it. After I changed her name, I started to like her and the story took on a different essence for me. So, yeah, names for heroine's can really make a different in a story.

    I know an author from back in the day whom I adored, but she named a character Heather and made her kind of, well, needy and puny. I never liked the name Heather (apologies to anyone who reads this named Heather), so that made it even worse. I never connected with that character.

    I did name a character Jane. Jane is my middle name, but that's not why I named her that. The phrase "plain Jane" came to mind and I wanted the character to feel like a plain Jane even though she wasn't. It was her rough and uncertain life that made her feel that way.

    I named another character Lilith which may be regarded by some as a bad name for a heroine since it is the name of the evil goddess, but it also means "Fierce" and that's what this character was--fierce in the face of daunting odds and strong even when she was afraid.

    I loved this blog about heroine's names. It's important what we name our female characters. They aren't there for the ride; they are an integral part of the story line. And, by the way, I did have to smile when you mentioned how you always have a wounded hero, Cheryl. Sometimes it takes me by surprise how the injury happens, but I know it's coming. I forgot how you wanted to be a nurse because your family was against it as a career--and mine were dead set on me becoming a nurse regardless of what I wanted--like becoming an English major and teaching.
    Great post, Cheryl

    1. Sarah, thanks so much for stopping by today and commenting. You know how much I love names, like you, and they are truly so important. Some may think only the hero's name is important, but in my eyes, they BOTH are!

      Like you, it's very hard for me to like a character whose name I don't like. I really WANT to like the people I'm reading about, so if their names turn me off, it's hard to concentrate on what they're doing in the story and root for them!

      And don't we all have names we just really don't like? Sometimes, it's an irrational dislike--with no clear reason--just don't like it. And other times, maybe we've known someone in real life with that name and we didn't like them, etc. so we equate the character with those same qualities. Even though THAT is irrational, too. LOL

      Sarah, I feel like Kato in The Pink Panther movies -- remember how Peter Sellers would shout, "NOT NOW, KATO! YOU FOOL!" LOL That's how I am when I wound my heroes. It has to be a NOT NOW, KATO! moment. There's never a convenient time for getting hurt, but some are worse than others, right? LOL

      So many of us had that same dream of majoring in English and teaching. I wanted to major in English and write. SIGH. Back then, "back in the day"--teaching, nursing, and being a secretary were about all the options available to women--it's a whole different world now, thank goodness.

      Always love your insights and comments, Sarah. BTW, my very best friend from 1st grade through 4th, when she moved, was named Jane. She was so dear to me.

  2. What a wonderful information you shared. I'd realized there was a lot of me in all my female characters, but hadn't thought much about the names. For the medievals I either looked for names in that time frame or used the names of friends from the areas I wrote about.

    For historical, I used family names or names I found on headstones in cemeteries. Some of those names just sounded and felt right.

    As for favorite names, that's hard, but I favor Julitta from the book "Red Adam's Lady". There is just something about the sound of that name I really like.

    Thanks for giving me much more to add to my knowledge of the writing process. Doris

    1. Hi Doris! I've never heard the name Julitta! I love that, too. I had a 2nd cousin named "Janetta" which I thought was unusual. Another popular name from 'back in the day' is Icey--which I think is one I'm not sure I would use for a heroine...maybe for a villainess? LOL

      I wish I had more time and stamina to haunt the graveyards. As a kid, there was a huge cemetery behind the neighborhood park where we all went to play. We'd slip under the fence and go walk in the cemetery and read headstones--back then they also put pictures on them, sometimes, and little trinkets that might have been special to a deceased child. It was so "illuminating" to us to see that parents had done such a thing for their child. Now, you couldn't do that in a million years--it would all be stolen.

      I do use family names sometimes, too.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Doris and I'm glad you were able to "take" something from the post to use.

  3. I often have a purpose with names, especially secondary characters. There are names I do not like because I've been hurt by people. I've always turned the other cheek so as not to give them the satisfaction that they've hurt me....but I get my revenge in a secret giving that name to a villain or villainess. In fact I took extreme satisfaction when I named one woman Gin Annie...oh how far she had fallen in life due to her machinations. However, I have also given secondary characters names I like that have no reflection to my life. But in Beneath A Horse-Thief Moon and the sequels I gave my hero, Chase, that name because all the first born sons were named Charles, but Chase could not be a doctor, couldn't stand the sight of blood, preferred painting, and hence his father called him Chase because he was chasing after ridiculous dreams. Sara is a shortened version of Seraphina and Jolene...well, she was inspired by a lovely and lively teenager who we treated/treat like a daughter to this day. Some names come from ethnic backgrounds or the way they roll off the tongue. In the third book of the trilogy I named two saloon girls have girls I used to have fun with in a chat room years ago and they were thrilled to have a small part in that book. I loved your blog, Cheryl, and always learn something new about writing and about you personally. Absolutely spot on about those three career choices in the 60's. I realized I couldn't handle the sight of blood (to this day). Perhaps it stemmed from the hundreds of nose bleeds I used to have? Drip, drip drip. So, I became a secretary, and that career served me very well for decades to this very day.

    1. Hi Elizabeth! Oh, yes, isn't revenge sweet? LOL I do that too with my characters. You just never know where "people" are going to turn up in my stories. LOL I love that Chase's name had that different meaning for his father, who meant it in a "bad" way, but for Chase, it turned out just as it was meant to. He chased his dreams and he found them.

      Thanks so much for stopping by--I always love your comments, Elizabeth!

  4. Thought provoking post, Cheryl. Naming characters is so important and often difficult. I had a terrible time naming the heroine of my first book, Darlin Irish. She is the daughter of irish immigrants, so I thought she should bear a traditional Irish name. Trouble was I wanted from the beginning to name her Jessie, a Hebrew name meaning rich, which she certainly isn't. Yet, it was as if she demanded that name, so I gave in, compromising by giving her an Irish-sounding middle name, Allyn (a take-off from the song Barbara Allen.) In the end I'm glad I chose to go with Jessie because it seems to suit her tempestuous personality. It was also a somewhat popular 19th century name. Oh, the nitpicky research we do as writers!

    For my contemporary series, Romancing the Guardians, I did much less research for character names, simply choosing ones that appeal to me. The time period a writer works with plays a big part in name choices.

    1. Hi Lyn, I love Jessie for her name! Sometimes our characters do tell us exactly what they want to be called and we just have no say in the matter. I am struggling right now with a story I'm writing and at first I loved the hero's I'm not so sure it fits him. I may have to change it.

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

  5. Cheryl, I use family names or look at the chart you suggested for historical romances. For contemporary, I look at the chart to see what was popular twenty years ago. I love the names Elizabeth and Sarah and have to force myself to choose something else because I've used those names. Interesting post.

    1. Caroline, I love those names too, and lordy there are so many good ones to pick from. Sometimes it's harder for me to choose something for the hero I haven't used over and over...I sure do have some favorites for Hero and heroine! LOL Thanks for stopping by!

  6. I drew y'all's names out of a big ol' Stetson I keep just for that purpose, and the winner is...LYN HORNER!

    Lyn, if you will contact me at I will see that you get your prize!

    Thanks, everyone, for participating in this fun post. There are so many excellent choices for names out there, it's really hard to go wrong!

    1. Yahoo, I'm the winner! Thank you, Cheryl. I will contact you.


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