How to Write Like a Professional

How to Write Like a Professional
6 Surprising Writing Mistakes That Make You Look Like an Amateur Author... and How to Avoid Them

Monday, July 26, 2010

Naming Your Characters

When choosing a name for your characters, no matter the genre, writers have to think about a lot of
things.  Often, I go with my gut feeling.  Sometimes I flop around in the pool of names for weeks. Sometimes I research name meanings.  And sometimes I just pick one out of the wind.


A character's first name generally falls into two categories:  who they are and where they came from.  So get to know your character!  A heroic type boy named Sterling, a girl born at night named Star, or a girl born by a creek named Brooke are examples of this.  Also, remember to make the name age-appropriate.

Here are several tips about choosing a name.

  • Importance - Names can clarify a character's personality, have symbolic meaning, or add depth to your story, but they don't always have to.  Think about all the wonderful stories and books you've read.  Think about the meanings you took with you, the plots, the characters.  Now try to remember their names.  Usually, you won't be able to remember all the names.  I remember titles and authors before I'll remember a name, unless it's one like Curious George, Shrek, Madeline, Fancy Nancy, Franklin, Wilbur, Charlotte, Harry, etc.  But more often than not, you probably won't remember the names of the characters you read about, even if it IS a book you really love.  That being said, the first thing you need to decide is how important the name really is.  Is it crucial, or would any of 10 chosen names work equally well?  
  • Personality - Get to know your character first.  Try to choose a name that has a certain connotation to it.  One-syllable vs. three syllable names.  Tom or Tommy.  Ann or Annie.  Think of what names make the character more refined, elegant, girly, delicate, tough, bossy, mean, shy, unruly, dirty, country, city, fast-paced, slow, old, young, smart, etc.  For example you probably wouldn't name a dirty shy girl living in the country Arielle.  And you wouldn't name a tough, mean boy Thomas.  Although you could.  It's all up to you.
  • Heritage - Is your character of a certain ethnicity?  If so, let that show.  Lots of names are unique to the culture in which those people live.  Take advantage of it.  Or if it's important that your characters were named after someone important, use that too.
  • Symbolism - Symbolic names often have tons of meaning and connotations in them, so be careful.  These include:  famous names (Madonna, Elvis), Biblical names (Adam, Job, Matthew, Ruth), weather and seasons (Storm, Summer, May, April), Greek mythology (Apollo, Zeus), and many more.  Don't just use a symbolic name if there's no reason to.  That defeats the purpose of using symbolism.  But aware of the risks.  Like a character named Eve might conjure up the idea that she will be the beginning of something hugely important and significant.
  • Be Obvious - Happy, Dopey, Doc, and Grumpy (Dwarfs).  Papa, Brainy, Lazy, Handy, Clumsy (Smurfs).  Bob the Builder, The Tin Man, etc.  These types of names often work best in fairy tales, science fiction, or something strangely unique.
  • Opposites - Go with something different.  Be ironic.  A hitman named Teddy.  A model named Greta or Helga.  A girl that stinks named Rose.  A preacher (or his son) named Blade.  A little bit of irony goes a long way, but only if it's useful and serves the story in some way.
  • Feel - How does the name feel when said aloud?  Names with strong sounds like "g" "p" "v" "z" "t" "s" "k" give the character more strength.  Soft sounds like "l" "m" "n" "y" "d" "h" and "b" will have a softer sound, and maybe even soften the character flaws.  It's all up to you to decide how you want the name to sound and what you want the name to accomplish.  But try to make it easy to pronounce.
Last but not least, you can use a baby name book or website.  My favorite is babycenter.com's baby name finder feature.  You can search names by origin, syllable, first letters, last letters, and narrow by boy or girl.

Happy name hunting and happy writing!

2 comments:

  1. I love naming everything, and so when I am writing, it's hard for me to go on until I have the character I just invented NAMED... LOL. So I usually start with collecting the names first before I even start writing!

    My current WIP is a MG/YA (not sure yet, still seeing how it plays out) and stars the River family: Denim the Bubble Ranger, his sister Ravenna the Time Bender, their mother Milana and daddy Dunstan, grandpa Naveen and grandma Purlina, Denim's girlfriend Calliope... and of course the bad guy... Ladarius!!!

    Oh, wait... can't forget their fluffy, white kitty Hollyhock. :-)
    Cynthia Moyer
    www.clmoyer.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah, names are a lot of fun. Sometimes I'll have just a first name only as the beginning of a work. One came to me just a week or so ago. He needs to be the mc for a chapter book. Now, when am I going to find time to write that? Actually it's just a nickname. Gleek. He wears glasses. Loves playing computer games. And has 3 pet snakes. That's it. That's all I know about him right now.

    You have some very cool character names for your book. Sounds like it would be a lot of fun to read. (Except the bad guy is kind of hard to pronounce. Probably even more so for children.)

    ReplyDelete

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