Guest Blogger Catherine Mulvany

03 Aug

Author Catherine Mulvany loved fairy tales as a child, so it’s no wonder she writes romantic suspense with a paranormal twist (a.k.a. fairy tales for grownups).

A member of Romance Writers of America, Catherine earned a master’s degree from Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction program, a course of study specifically geared toward genre writers. For more information, visit

© 2012 by Catherine Mulvany

What’s in a name?

If you’re a parent, you already know how much effort goes into choosing the perfect name for your child. For example, my parents named their first son James after my father. The middle name was much trickier, though. They debated back and forth for months. Should they go with Howard for my mother’s father or with Lincoln for my father’s father? In the end, they decided to use both grandfathers’ names. Hence, my brother Jimmy’s official name ended up being James Howard Lincoln.

Four years later, along came my younger brother. Since my parents had already used all the family names, they had to come up with something new. After a lot of thought, they chose Patrick Kevin, a name that worked well with our Irish surname.

Names are every bit as important to writers as they are to parents. Sometimes we writers choose names based solely on the way they sound. If we’re searching for something that suggests a contemporary heroic type, we generally pick one- or two-syllable names like Travis, Quinn, Mitch, and Ethan because they sound tough and macho. Historical heroes, on the other hand, generally sport more traditional names like Richard, Alexander, Geoffrey, or Thomas.

Other times writers pick specific names to provide insight into the character’s personality. Some writers even employ a bit of subliminal manipulation in the particular names they give certain characters. For example, J.K. Rowling chose to call the villain of her Harry Potter series Voldemort, a perfect choice since the name translates to “wind of death.”

Truth be told I probably waste way more time than I should naming my characters, but I can’t help it. The way the name sounds matters, of course, but for me, the meaning and origin are every bit as important. My most cherished—and most used—research book is The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Do I pick names according to how they sound? Yes, of course. But I also try to make them fit the character I’ve envisioned.

This summer I’ve been working on a book I outlined several years ago. For reasons I won’t bore you with, I had to change the hero’s name, and as usual, the whole process gave me fits. I spent literally half a day poring over lists of names. But the really odd part of the whole process came after I finally chose the new name, because the instant I did, the character himself changed—appearance, back story, verbal quirks, and personality. He was still heroic, of course, but different. Or to put it another way—yes, he smelled just as sweet, only more like a carnation than a rose.

So what’s your experience? Have you ever changed a character’s name? Did it make a difference?


Posted by on August 3, 2012 in Guest Blog, Idaho, research, writers, writing craft


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12 responses to “Guest Blogger Catherine Mulvany

  1. ValRoberts

    August 3, 2012 at 8:04 AM

    Hi Cathy!
    I also have to get the names right before characters come into focus. I love how changing your hero’s name spiced him up (since carnations smell kind of like cloves, grin).

    I’m working on a story where all the characters have Asian names, which adds another layer of complexity. What symbolism does the name have in its native culture (in this case a futuristic mishmash of various Asian cultures), vs. the current-time American culture of the story’s likely audience?

    I named the heroine Yuki, which means “snow child” in Japanese, at least according to my research. In Japan, snow is associated with happiness and good fortune; a snow child is a blessing to the family. Fascinating stuff!

    • Cathy Mulvany

      August 3, 2012 at 9:34 AM

      Val, I love that! Snow child.

      I’ve always thought my name obsession was a little weird. If it is, at least I’m not the only weird one around.

      For me, choosing just the right name is an important step in the process of structuring my manufactured reality.

  2. Janis McCurry

    August 3, 2012 at 8:04 AM

    My current WIP hero’s name changed twice because I just couldn’t get it right. First he was Vic (I hated it and don’t even know why I used it to begin with). The second name I don’t even remember. I like the name I’ve settled on and one of my CPs tells me it sounds like a girl! LOL. 🙂

    And whether it’s changed the book for the better is up for grabs. I’M more content, but if an editor asked to change it? You betcha!

    • Cathy Mulvany

      August 3, 2012 at 9:43 AM

      Okay, Janis, tell. What is this name your critique partner thinks is so girly? There are so many names nowadays that aren’t gender specific–Jordan, Tracy, Pat, Nicky, Quinn, Alex, Jody, Lesley, etc., etc, etc.

      • Janis McCurry

        August 3, 2012 at 9:44 AM


        • Cathy Mulvany

          August 3, 2012 at 11:39 AM

          I like the name Riley. But it is a name that can be used for either a male or a female. I have a male relative named Riley, but I also know a teenaged girl named Riley. Both are cuties, though, so I think your hero’s okay.

  3. stephanieberget

    August 3, 2012 at 11:20 AM

    Hi Catherine. I love naming characters. I’m 60,000+ words into a WIP, and one of the secondary characters changed his name. Now that I think of it, it changed his backstory too.
    And Janis, I love the name Riley for a man. It’s a very popular name for rodeo cowboys.

    • Cathy Mulvany

      August 3, 2012 at 11:42 AM

      It’s strange the way that happens, how just changing a character’s name changes the character. I wonder if there are any parallels in real life. Anybody know of one?

  4. maryvine

    August 3, 2012 at 1:55 PM

    I do put a lot of thought into the hero and herioine’s name. Sometimes it takes me awhile. I changed the hero’s name in my historial novella Mark to Gabriel for a special reason.
    I know one gal named Riley and one guy.
    Thanks for being a guest blogger today!

    • Cathy Mulvany

      August 3, 2012 at 8:50 PM

      Thanks for taking time to respond, Mary!

  5. Clarissa Southwick

    August 6, 2012 at 1:35 AM

    Thanks for writing this fantastic guest blog, Cathy.

    I have a Tudor story I’ve been carrying around in my head for a year, but I can’t actually write it because I don’t know what the hero’s name is. Every time I think I’ve found and era-appropriate name for him, I realize that there was already a real person with that name in the story, or a name so similar that it will be confusing. I’ll have to check out the Kenyon book and see if it gives me any ideas.

  6. Peggy Staggs

    August 7, 2012 at 5:04 PM

    I find that once I name a character I have to stick with it because they become that person to me. It would be like trying to change the name of a friend.
    I think too, that the spelling of a name can be important. And fancy or hard to pronounce names are annoying.


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