Writer’s Digest had a great article linked above about the rules of picking character names. It’s an interesting read, with things you might not necessarily think of. It might be tempting to pick the most awesome name you can, but if it doesn’t fit the setting and the character, readers are going to be bored. Since picking character names is such an important task for a writer, I thought I would share some of my process.
I am very selective about my names. If they need to be ethnically correct, I rely on my trusted baby name book to get me through. But that’s only the beginning of the process, and that’s only if they need a specific ethnicity. Next, I check the meaning of the name, to see if that’s the kind of name I want to resonate with my character. Step three is usually optional, but if I’m finding myself in a tight spot, I crosscheck my name choice with The Secret Universe of Names. If you’re unfamiliar with this book, I find it to be the writer’s best friend when it comes to naming characters. Sure, you might have a name whose meaning fits the personality of your character, but what about how the sound of the name will resonate with your readers’ psyche? The Secret Universe of Names breaks down names into sounds and then explains what type of connotations those names evoke in readers based on the sound. For example, Erica resonates with eros and erotic because of the “er” sound at the beginning. Its a concept that’s easily overlooked but essential to the life of your character. And even if your character doesn’t have an English name, if your readers speak English the sounds will still have the same effect.
Because I occasionally write historical fiction, sometimes my characters are named for me. Although, because there are also original characters in the series, I then had to find Italian names that would have been used during the Renaissance. This was also the case with Toasty, where three-quarters of my characters were already named and the rest were easy. Perhaps the most difficult characters for me to name were in the Legends of Damodar, because I decided that half of my characters were going to have Hindi names. My favorite naming experience, however, was finding modern names for the Borgias and the Estes. Alfonso and Angela were the only lucky two who got to keep their names. The rest of them I had to get creative.
I gave up quite a while ago on keeping separate names for different series. Another thing I try to think about while naming is people I know. I try to avoid their names whenever possible, but sometimes it just doesn’t work that way. For instance, John is the name of my real uncle, an angel, and a federal agent. I try to avoid names of people I know because I don’t want them to think that that is what I feel about them. True story, this was unfortunately not the case with the name of my first boss. My first boss was awesome. I think he’s a great guy. Regrettably, he now shares a name with a gay werewolf, and I can only hope that on the off-chance he ever reads that book and realizes I wrote it, he also realizes that that is not what I think about him at all. Actually, I’m still on the fence about the werewolf part.
If you have any questions about my naming process or just the naming process in general, feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail. I’d also be interested in hearing what your favorite character name is.
- How To Find the Perfect Names For Your Characters! (persephonemagazine.com)
- A King Named Sue: Picking Perfect (Character) Names (omnivoracious.com)