Thursday, February 21, 2013

Three Tips for Naming Your Characters

The inspiration for this post came because I recently read a book that had a very silly name for the villain and every time I read it, I laughed.  It ruined the book for me because I couldn't get the tension from the plot that was needed because I was busy giggling or rolling my eyes.  I was very surprised that the author's editor let them get away with naming a character that, because it would so easily take someone out of the story, and usually those things are the first to go during revisions.

But that got me thinking to how I name my characters.  For example, I was debating last night about naming a senator in my book something definitive like Senator DeMarco or something non-descript like Senator Whiting.  Of course it all depends on what part the character plays in your novel, but naming characters, while fun, also needs to be done with care.

Here are three things to consider when naming characters.

1.  Choose something that fits the character.  I love the meanings behind the names and for my book, All Fall Down, I wanted a heroine name that would really speak to the fact that she was level-headed, independent and strong.  Sure of herself.  So I named her Claire because I thought of "clear" and "clarity" every time I typed it and it really fit her.  In that same book I made the mistake of nicknaming Claire's dad "Skip" and I had a military reason for doing that, but the reason got cut from the final manuscript and I've had a few people comment that they couldn't see a tough guy nicknamed Skip.  So, in the sequel, I'm working in the explanation for his name, and  I'm going to be more careful in the future of nicknames and making sure they fit my character as well as a given name.

2.  Don't have too many characters with names that start with the same letter.  I started out with a Claire, Colby, and Connor, three main characters in All Fall Down. (And of course when I realized it, I changed it.)  But it makes it hard for the reader to keep everyone straight---and sometimes the author, too.  So be careful with same letter names.

3.  Give your characters, especially the hero and heroine, names that you like.  (I usually give them names I wanted to name my children, but that my husband vetoed for one reason or another.)  And this is a tip from me because as a writer, you will be typing that name a lot and if you hate it or it brings up negative feelings for you, well, you'll be slogging through that manuscript.  When I have a character I love, with a name that fits and that I love as well, I am excited to write them---to see where that character is going to go today.

What's your tip for naming characters?  Have you ever come across names that made you crazy when you were reading?


Jon Spell said...

You know, there was one character I ran across where I misread it the first time as Pez, and every time I saw it afterwards, all I could think of was a Pez dispenser when I pictured him. (I kid because I care.)

I used a name generator for one character. I ran across one that provided some insanely detailed [but fake] information. I should see if I can find that link. I wanted one that said noble, dependable, solid, and I think that worked out for him. For another, I stole a name from a high school classmate who was saddled with a stuffy name - I rearranged it a little, but if he happens to read it, he'll know I used him! (OTOH, many people are surprised at the details I remember about them from long ago, so maybe he wouldn't suspect...)

I'm not positive how I came up with my MC's name, except that I wanted to design a series that would have her name in the title. (I know, authors rarely get to keep their titles.)

Try it out - I got a full address, birthday, Visa #, SIN (Canadian), Vehicle, height, weight! Maybe it should be fake identity generator!

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Mean! Poor Bez.

Thanks for the link! That's awesome! :)

Debra Allen Erfert said...

I only had two children, but I had lots of names that I loved. It's a good thing I went into writing so I can use those names for my characters. I also love to use names that I don't like for those villains in my stories.

A friend of mine pointed out that I had characters, brothers, in my current work in progress that had names that were too similar. They all started with the same first letter, and it was confusing. I hated to agree *sighs* but I finally did, and changed two of the three. It reads better now.

Rebecca H. Jamison said...

I have made the name mistake, where three characters' names started with the same letter and were the same length. One thing I've also learned is to make sure the name is age appropriate. I like to look up name popularity by birth year.

Angie said...

Those are all great tips. I have to be careful about the same initial letter thing. I tend to get fixated on names that start with the same letter.