Names. They’re usually the first piece of personal information you learn about a person. And they have so much power. As parents, the names we give our children (real or hypothetical) shape an essential part of who they ultimately become. It could ruin their lives.
Is that a slightly dramatic assessment? Maybe. But I’m a writer. And a theater nerd. Being dramatic is part of my DNA.
I’m serious about the name thing, though. When writing, we have to choose our characters’ names with care. Now, I’m not saying you have to scour every name source out there, or come up with a zillion options before making a choice, but some thought should certainly go into the process.
Sometimes, names just come to us. When this happens, stop for a second before you decide to name every character in your story Bob. Or Susan. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with either of those names, but not everyone can be Bob or Susan. It would get so confusing! And boring.
But your characters can’t all be as unique as Moon Unit (Yeah, that’s a real name. Google Frank Zappa’s daughter if you want proof.) or Hy’antr’ash-Mieg. Okay, that one I made up, but we’ve all seen them—those totally bizarre names that are either unpronounceable or just impossible to believe.
Choosing the right names can be a difficult quest if you’re writing Science Fiction or Fantasy, but it’s something to consider for every genre.
So, here are a few tips as you go about naming your characters:
1) Look up the meaning.
I like to see if the name’s meaning has anything to do with my character’s personality. For example, one of my characters is named Selah. Some Hebrew translations say it means “pause and reflect.” In my story, Selah is the type of person who doesn’t make snap judgments. She has an even-keel personality.
Conversely, it can be interesting to give a character a name that’s the opposite of his personality. Take his dominant traits and search the thesaurus for antonyms. Then look up names with those meanings.
Places to find name meanings:
*Baby name books *Websites like this *General web searches
If you’re writing a contemporary (or historical) novel set in the U.S., a great place to look is the Social Security Administration site. They have searchable lists organized by decade to tell you which names were common when your characters were born. There are probably sites like this for other countries, too.
3) If you want to be a little more out there with your naming creativity, GO FOR IT!
Things to ask yourself when you do this:
- Is the name pronounceable? If your readers can’t talk about their favorite characters out loud to their friends, this could be problematic.
- Is the name something I can remember easily enough to write regularly? You don’t want to slow down your own writing by trying to recall how to spell OMmifgwygn’enen’s name. Right? I mean, you’re the author, but we all have more important things to do with our writing time, don’t we? 😉
A fun resource if you want to spark ideas is the Fantasy Name Generator.
How do you name your characters? What are the best character names you’ve seen?
This is Dana, signing off!
*If you want to go more in depth on this topic, Jill Williamson has a great post on naming (and resources) at GoTeenWriters: http://goteenwriters.blogspot.com/2013/01/choosing-names-for-your-characters.html