Good names are important! Can you imagine if Harry Potter were called Fitzgerald Prollington?
So for my first post on this new blog, I’m going to show you how I name characters (especially tricky ones) and hopefully you’ll get a few tips that you can use in your own writing. This is for those characters where you have a personality in your head (or on the page) and you just can’t think of a single name that works for you.
Whenever I have a character that needs to be named, I go through a three-step process that’s fairly simple and self explanatory: First, Last and Check, so that’s how the blog is going to run.
Now, when you write a character a name might just pop into your head easily, and it fits them and you can move on, but for the harder characters I usually do one of four techniques to help me choose.
- Name-twist: I take a normal name and change it a little bit so it sounds unusual and fresh. An example of this would be taking an ordinary name; such as Caitlin, and going Caitlin: Kaitlin: Kaitlyn: Kaitlynn: Kairlynn: Karlynn. You can do as many steps as you want until you find a fresh, new name that you think fits them. Sometimes anagramming also works, on https://www.behindthename.com/anagram/ you can find anagrams to a few short names which can be trash or treasure depending on your characters.
- The Relative: Make a risky choice and name them after someone you know that has similar traits to your character, and hope they never find out. This is risky because you’ll forever connect the two, and if they do find out they might be insulted that you thought that this character was in ANY WAY similar to them. What I like to do sometimes is combine both techniques 1&2 and take a friend’s name (such as Allie) and turn it into something new (like Ilai).
- The Classic: Use a baby name generator website. There are two ways you can do this (apart from just searching). One way is to input the era or country your character is from, and spin the name wheel over and over again (which gets tedious). Or, (my personal favourite) is you can use a name meaning dictionary, and a characteristic your character has and find a name for them. You can’t use this too much because soon you’ll have books full of Calebs (loyalty), Asher (happy), or Mallory (bad luck – sorry Mallory). While not all audiences will know the meaning behind the name, a few will sense it. Don’t you get a feeling of peace from the name Alana? http://www.meaning-of-names.com/search/index.asp?nm=joy&stype=1 is a good website to do this on.
I don’t tend to give many of my characters last names, unless it is for one of four reasons; I want to clarify them from another character with the same name (warning: bad idea), I want to connect them to a family member, I want to make it clear they are noble, or I want to stress something about them (e.g. Drax the Destroyer, Bob the builder). For each of these reasons, I have a strategy (but they’re pretty interchangeable so don’t stress).
- Clarification: For this one I usually just use general names, like John Smith vs. John Appleseed. I don’t do this often because I find referring to them after the introduction is awkward so I can’t give many further tips, sorry. 🙁
- Family Connection: Pay attention in real life. Many last names are common and generic, so they can’t be connected with any friends, relatives or famous people. Listen out during roll call, while you’re watching the Olympics etc. You never know where you can find name inspiration. For these, I recommend keeping the name simple, to help your readers keep every character in order.
- Noble Birth: There are some super handy historical fiction name generators out there. If you just google historical name generator, something will come up I promise you. Sometimes it’s nice to add in a little something in the middle (e.g. Sandrilene fa Toren, or Eric den Besten).
- Characteristics: Like in The Mortal Instruments Series, I like to give characters last names that are two words mashed together that indicate something about them. This is pretty self explanatory so I’ll just list examples. Eric Bloodfist, Rowena Ravenclaw, Taylor Winterstreak… This can also come in the form of Name the Namer, e.g. Drax the Destroyer, Ivan the Intelligent, Taryn the Terrible…
Before you finalise any names, you gotta check it, son. Here are my five checks:
- Say it out loud. Does it sound good? Clear?
- Does it fit them? – This is hard to judge on your own, maybe describe them to a friend and ask them.
- Google it. Is there anybody who has the same name that you might have unconsciously borrowed from?
- Write it down and ask somebody to say it without telling them the pronunciation. Do they pronounce it something like Hormone when its Hermione? Does it sound right to you?
- Is it right for the era and class of character? Naming a 2000’s kid Gertrude sounds plain odd, as does naming a 1890’s rancher Xander. Don’t do it.
- Think about your other cast of characters. Do you have a trend, like they all start with A? (Don’t do it, its just annoying. This is happening in a book I’m reading currently and I cannot tell anyone apart.) Does the name fit right with the rest?
If you’re really struggling, and none of these things help, I find that challenging myself to call my friends by any other name but theirs for the whole day really gets my creative juices flowing. (Rule: You can’t use a name twice.) I did this yesterday and I ended up finding about seven different variations of Samantha, hehe.
AND YOU’RE DONE!
Good luck naming your characters, and comment some good names you find to help inspire others!
p.s. if you’re curious, my irl name means ‘hill’. great, i know