character names

October 28, 2009

Sometimes they’re just so obvious. Of course his name is Eddie Haven, what else would it be? Isadora Peabody. Eliza Flyte. Michelle Turner. Olivia Bellamy. Mary Dare. Will Bonner. They just popped into my mind and stuck, helping to shape the character.

Other times (um, now), it all feels so artificial. I think it was Elmore Leonard who said (I’m paraphrasing), “Don’t let your characters’ names sound like made-up names.”

So here’s where I am. I’m writing about two sisters, Isabel and Tess. That’s fine, they sound like sisters. The surname is what’s tripping me up. Due to a backstory that accesses an event in WWII, they need a Danish or maybe Swedish surname.

So far, all I’ve come up with are names that sound like Ikea furniture, or…well, you be the judge.

With all due respect to the Danes, these are not going to fly with English-speaking readers.
I’m getting tripped up by the letter S. Both Isabel and Tess are already sibilant enough, so I’m looking for something that feels natural, pretty, and doesn’t make me hiss like a snake.

Categories : Swedish names
  • My husband’s last name (and mine as well now) is Branting, pronounced Branning, silent T in Swedish. If you google it you’ll come up with the Nobel Peace prize winner Karl Branting.

  • whoops!! my computer is acting up… was offline and rebooted and now sending comments like crazy…btw i overheard someone spelling their last name at the gym this am l-u-s-c-h. just saying it would work well for a future story along with kock or klitgaard. lol!!

  • what about lund or dahl? no s ssssounds and easily identified as scandinavian (easy to pronounce too)… i’m currently reading lakeshore christmas (it’s a perfect read before i start suzanne collin’s catching fire). everyone who reads lakeshore christmas should be inspired to donate generously to their own community library. i know i am. thank you for another enjoyable story.

  • what about lund or dahl? both sound great with isabel and tess… very fine (obvious) scandinavian names… i’m currently reading lakeshore christmas (it’s just the right read before i begin catching fire by suzanne collins) and i hope it inspires everyone who reads it to give generously to their community libraries if they don’t already… lakeshore christmas is also the perfect christmas gift for my bookworm girlfriends!

  • I have a Danish last name! (I got it from my husband.) You can use it in your book. I would be thrilled. Paludan is one of the most common surnames in Denmark. It’s kind of like Smith or Jones.

    And…just an FYI, don’t use a surname with special foreign characters if at all possible. You don’t want to drive your editor crazy with having to embed the fonts, and even if he/she does embed the fonts, that’s no guarantee that they will look the same in the Kindle reader. Just my 2 cents.

  • ok – I am glad I am NOT the only one who cracked up at Kock and Klitgaard….please PLEASE Susan, do NOT go with those…I couldn’t take the story seriously!

  • I think Svensson goes well with their names. I also like Jurgensen(sounds smooth and soothing like Jergens lotion) and Korsgaard….the name could guard the course of their lives….sounds like it deals with their destiny.

  • Go to
    and you will fine alot of Swedish surnames.

    I have a question to ask you I wrote a book and on a next one which I’m almost done. By problem is where do I put the chapters in. And sometimes I run a sentence on. I was wondering if you can read it and tell me what I need to do to emprove my writing and the book.
    I love reading your books. I’ve only read three so far and I just bought another one.

  • How about:

    Rayner – Danish meaning – Leader of the Danes

    Gadsby- Danish meaning- gade, street, gate town

    Farraday – Gaelic meaning inquisitive, prying, curious

    I personally like Isabel and Tess Farraday!

  • Bergeson from/or Birger (Swedish) meaning one who saves, protects or helps.

    Wallgren (Swedish) meaning grassy bank

    Holden (Danish) a safe place

    Berwald (Danish) ruler of the forest

  • Here are some Danish suggestions for you…Jeppesen, Østergaard, Vestergaard, Villadsen, Nguyen, Buch..and here are some sweish surnames for you…Agardh Ahlquist, Ahlstad, Anckarström ,Anderberg, Andersen, Bashe ,Bbjornstrand , Westermark Wetterstrom Wetterstrum

  • Trying again… lol
    Swedish name ideas: Brodin, Boven, Bystrom, Dahling, Dahlgren, Edelberg, Farin, Floren, Halgren, Hjelm, Hoving, Landeen, Leander, Lovgren, Norlin, Norlander, Nystrom, and Rosing. Danish name ideas: Bigsby, Handel, Kiersted, and Rayner.

  • My friend Marta is Swedish and
    Her grangmother played some sort of role during the war
    Her last name is Brandstromskelding
    She says it means woman who carries a great sword.
    It is 2 names joined together: Brandstrom and Skelding.

    • Very inspiring! Love the meaning behind the name. I bet there’s a whole story there, from your friend Marta. I might have to tuckerize Marta. (tuckerize=borrowing a person’s name for a fictional character)

    • Oh, Lindberg is very interesting since the backstory has some mysterious stuff in it. Also there’s a Lindberg property (former) on the island where I live. I often like borrowing famous names for my characters–Bennet, Bellamy, Peabody, etc.

    • Yes, those are classic and mainstream, so they don’t sound made up. But they don’t “go” with Isabel & Tess due to all the S sounds. I could use them if I could come up with new first names. Ava would work for Tess. Hmmmm….

      • Lindberg sounds good 🙂 good job Emilie! ….. lots better then Kock or Klitgaard…LMAO 🙂 oh Susan you crack me up! Thanks for the laugh..

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