By Any Other Name

In most of my writing I don’t usually give a lot of thought to character names, they tend to come instinctively and just feel right, recently however I had a real struggle trying to decide on a name for my female protagonist. It did remind me that the importance of a name shouldn’t be dismissed and there are a few key things to remember when naming characters:

Age

This one is fairly obvious. A name can often indicate someone’s age and if your character is twenty years old for example you probably wouldn’t call him Albert.

Time Setting

If however your character is twenty years old in the 1940s then Albert would be much more appropriate but a female character in the eighteenth century called Tulisa- not so much.

Class

If you are writing about a family who are particularly wealthy and privately educated it is also likely you would want their names to represent that, such as Beatrix. Although do be careful with this one, if you have a whole family with names like Edmund, Arabella and Wolcott things will very quickly become tedious.

Associations

It is highly unlikely you would decide to call a character Adolf unless you intentionally wanted to create particular associations. Although Adolf is an extreme example a lot of names have associations even if is not because they are linked with someone famous, for example the names Summer, Rain and Autumn all suggest young women who might be described as hippies (apologies to any Summers, Rains or Autumns reading this who consider it insulting to be deemed a hippy).

Who you Know

One of the difficulties sometimes can be avoiding names that are perfectly suitable because you have a friend with that name. I make a point of never using a name the same as someone I am close to because no matter how different that character is from said friend/relative they are bound to think it is based on them and they’re either going to be flatter or (more likely) highly insulted.

Bill, Ben and Bob

An often forgotten bit of advice is to avoid naming character within a story similar names and this includes even having them start with the same initial if you can help it, this is particularly true with short stories when it can very quickly throw the reader as to which character was just referred to.

Finally a good resource to use when naming characters is an online directory of baby names, such as babynames.com, this will also give you the origin and meaning of names. Or if you really want to have some fun try a character name generator and see what random results you get you can find a good one here, this is particularly good for science fiction writing.

Now how much thought do you put into your character’s name?

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tracy Fells
    Apr 23, 2012 @ 19:40:48

    This post resonated with me and I nodded vigorously as I read through it. I have a dictionary of First names – and sometimes check the meaning of names too, which can add to a character if you know the true meaning of their name (even if the reader doesn’t know the meaning). Sometimes I find a character’s name will just pop into my head, but oddly from a piece of dialogue coming from another character in the story. It’s like they’re all out there living without me and I’m just listening in – spooky or perhaps I need to get away from the keyboard more often…

    Reply

  2. Maxi
    Apr 28, 2012 @ 15:02:00

    Definitely think getting a character’s name right can help you get to ‘know’ them. I don’t think it’s always easy to find just the right name though. Had to laugh at the ‘Tulisa’ comment! Nope, not seen many of them in the literary classics I’ve read! 🙂

    Reply

  3. Helen Baggott
    Apr 29, 2012 @ 11:29:06

    I’m surprised some writers don’t seem to give much thought to a character’s name. Sometimes they just don’t fit.

    Reply

  4. Stefanie Michelle (@stef_nicholas)
    Mar 21, 2013 @ 12:52:11

    Awesome post! I agree! I love naming characters. Another one I’d say is pronunciation. One of my MC’s is name Isla, and for some reason no one can figure it out >_> But now I don’t want to change it because it suits her character so well. Blargh.

    Reply

  5. Debbie Causevic
    Apr 12, 2013 @ 15:05:08

    Great post. I laughed when I read the “Bill, Ben & Bob” section. In one of my MSs, I deliberately named two characters Ben and Brad because I wanted the reader to confuse them at first. Most readers were fine w/ it, but a few were definitely annoyed! 🙂

    Reply

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