Lately, I’ve been seeing lots of talk and questions about naming characters. What’s the big deal? Everything… Finding the perfect name for your character, can be just as important as finding a title. You have to love the name, you’re going to be writing it an awful lot, and later if published, your character will be talked about over and over.
Have you ever just heard a name, and loved it from the start. Loved the way it sounded on your lips, loved the way it swirled off your tongue? It just fit. Now imagine, if you have the perfect name for your character, hearing another character say that name for the first time. Whether it’s said with hope, muttered in irritation, whispered in an intimate moment or forced in anger through clenched teeth, it still needs to be impactful.
Here are a few tips, for naming your character:
- Remember to be careful when selecting exotic, unique or foreign names. Too many confusing character names can make it hard to follow which character is speaking. The rule of thumb, in a traditional fictional piece, would be to only have one exotic name, with the rest of the characters names being fairly general.
- Search websites, for the most popular names for boys and girls born in any year or time. This will ensure that your character names are appropriate to their era. This is important for accuracy and consistency throughout the story. Carefully check, to be sure that the name existed during that time period.
- Another great tip, is never have two characters in the same story with names that begin with the same letter. While it is a given, that if the names are different enough, it shouldn’t matter – it has been proven that many readers get confused when the names are too similar.
- It probably goes without saying, you should avoid repetitious names or names that sound alike even if spelled differently. For instance, avoid names like Jack and Zach or Jill and Bill or the traditional Jack and Jill is probably a no-brainer also.
- Alliteration is another common mistake. In a children’s story, cute names work well, but in any type of Gen. fiction piece whether for young adult or older, names such as Tom Thompson, or Jeremy Jackson or, Mindy Miller – just don’t work.
- Don’t cement your character’s name. What I mean by that, is be open to change the character’s name later in the story if it isn’t working for you. For instance if at the start of the book, your character’s name is John which sounds like a simple name, paired with a good last name could be strong or powerful, or paired with a different type of last name might just be your average businessman let’s say, that you get halfway through the book and suddenly he becomes a rodeo rider, the named John Montgomery might not fit him anymore. Perhaps changing his name to Wayne Montgomery might fit a little better. The main point is to make sure the name fits the character.
- Keep your eyes and ears opened for great character names. I passed a business the other day – Mennemeyer Orthodontics. I kept thinking, what a cool last name. I love it. I tried it out with a few different names, but I really like Jack Mennemeyer. (sounds like an attorney at law lol). I also scour phone books, websites, my kids yearbooks, etc. for unique last names or names that just sound cool.
- Another really big tip – make sure your readers can pronounce the name. I have been reading a lot of books lately, and I see these unique, almost cool names – except I have no idea how you would even say them. This gets me all tripped up every time the name is mentioned in the book. (I think its kinda like my last name – see the FAQ for the correct way to pronounce it!) 😉
- Keep a small notebook with you to store names. I was able to have my daughter pull my notebook out of my purse and jot down the last name Mennemeyer so I wouldn’t forget it. I didn’t think I would, but I’ve been known to. Don’t assume you will remember.
- Most important rule? Take your time naming them. Don’t just pick the first thing that comes to mind or that “fits”. Let it sit there, use it a bunch and if in a few weeks its still working for you, then perfect. If not, you can change it and try something new on for size. There is no reason to rush it.
Do you have any tips you use for naming your characters?
Take your time naming your creations. Choosing a name that sings on the page for you will go a long way toward growing your characters. Shakespeare may have believed that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but romance writers know better!