I always struggle to name my characters if they don’t arrive with a name. It is like naming a child – you don’t name them just for the sound as it rolls off your tongue but what meaning you imbue their soul with. Sometimes I get lucky, when a character arrives without a name and standing at the sink, in the shower, hanging out washing, driving etc the name just comes to me and I go, “well of course!” but sometimes the search is more elusive.
Here are some tried and true tips for finding the right name for your character
- Name them after someone connected with the development of the story – if doing so is going to honour them. (Don’t name a character to spite a real life adversary.) I named the daughter in my story “Bondi”, Claire, after Australian author Claire Halliday, whose tweets on the absurdity surrounding her daughter wanting to busk Christmas carols, were the original inspiration for the story.
- Research old myths for strange or obscure names (look to the minor players) which you can use in whole or cut up into parts. Old Greek names are particularly good for those looking for reader friendly sci-fi or fantasy names. For instance I took the name Callisto, traced it back to earlier roots as Calliste and then carved it into Calli for my story “Clutch”. The protagonist in my WIP is named Theleia.
- Take the births and death pages from your local newspaper. There is always a great collection of new trend names and older names between the two pages. When I was a teenager one my writing folder was covered with the births pages from one of the Melbourne broadsheets – ready reference.
- Choose a high volume news site. I got to the Sydney Morning Herald website and pick the first name I come across. I usually look for the journos names but you could choose to look for names from those making the news. This is great for bit characters who just need a name
- Go to one of the online lists of the most popular birth names for the year – this is especially good if your looking to name your character with an authentic name for the time. Somewhere like here will give you the top five boys and girls names for each year for the last hundred years (they’re US names). The Baby Centre’s search engine will allow you to search for lists of top 100 names for any given year
- There’s a cracker book called “The New Age Baby Name Book” which has all manner of weird and wonderful names. Amazon has listings of used copies from 1c.
- Go biblical. Try somewhere like BibicalBabyNames.com.The great thing about lots of biblical names – they come with their own back stories. The best recent one to spring to mind is Chris Chartrand’s short story “Levi’s Hell”. For anyone who knows anything about The Bible they get a certain expectation of what’s to come because of who Leviticus was and indeed what’s contained in the book of Leviticus.
- Consider a particularly poignant or important quality in your character and find a name which matches it OR a foreign translation of it. My partner had come away from his international wanderings with the name Selâle (She-lah-ley) in his head for a daughter, after the owners of a hostel he worked in had a daughter named that (the name means waterfall)
- Jump on Facebook and use the first name which comes up in your news feed (again best for bit players). Best for first names – rather than surnames
Most of all – have fun naming your characters. And if the worst comes to the worst, you won’t have to turn to D-Poll to legally change the name of any of your characters should they decide to opt out of your choice. In the immortal words of Shakespeare: “That which we call a rose… By any other name would smell as sweet.”
What are your favourite character names from a book – weird, wonderful or plane obscure? Or a favourite from your stable of characters.