Whats in a Name?
A Rose by any other name…
Percival Ditherington-Smythe? Shaun O’Conner? Ullro Pverssson? Whats in a name? Is it really that important what your characters are called?
Regardless if you are writing a tome to compete with Lord of the Rings with countless fantasy characters sprawled across the lands or a short story with two girls in a café; at one point or another, you will need to give these people names, and most importantly remember who they are; should they need to reappear at a later date in your work. Sometimes, characters appear fully fledged, name tags in hand; other times you can really struggle giving that character the right name.
The most important thing to remember is that as a writer, you are going to want your audience to remember your characters’ names way after they have turned off the screen or put your book down. I’ve collated a few points which have come in handy for me along my journey as a writer.
Allow your story and genre to mould your characters.
Readers of certain genres have specific expectations about characters. You, as the author, have a responsibility to fulfill those expectations. Snake Eye Bob might be better suited to a Shootout in the OK Ranch rather than placed in a Contemporary Romance within a modern city
Must Be Easy To Pronounce – otherwise most people will forget it – or jumble it up. This is a pet hate of mine within Fantasy or Sci Fi novels. Sometimes the author tries to be too clever with double consonants and double barreled names in order to appear exotic or alien. It usually comes across as lame and forgettable.
They Shouldn’t Start With The Same Letter – unless you want to depict a congeniality or familiarity between them. Don and Debbie sound like a middle aged neighborly couple rather than enemies or thrill seekers.
Avoid Stereotypical Names – particularly those of religious or cultural significance ( Elvis, Jesus, Mohammed) You can run into a wall of trouble doing this when really, there are thousands of other names you can choose from and save yourself the grief.
With these points in the back of your mind, the next step is to get to know your characters. How do they move- what are their actions voices like – what are their motivations within your story? For the organized writers who like to plot and plan, this will be an easy task to complete before you begin writing. For pantsers like myself, characters appear and basically tell me what their names are. One of the main characters in my NaNoWriMo refused to be called what I had planned to call her and I had a difficult few hours devoid of any positive writing before I bent to her will.
A characters name needs to reflect their personality, his/her ethnicity, and the century in which they were born or planet/ solar system. You also need to decide how important names are to your story – or if you are going to use names to demonstrate a point or theme. There’s no hard and fast rule on what name fits what personality, however Suzy -Mae immediately conjures a different character than Mildred.
A name can help you clarify a character’s personality – so choose carefully. Its difficult not to associate names with people you know. If you like a certain name but know and dislike a person who has that name, would you feel comfortable using that name in your story?
Seventh Sanctum is a good starting point as a name and occupation generator for a myriad of genres, from fantasy to horror. It also has an action generator for combat scenes, as well as one for skills and abilities. It also provides a real potential for wasting time and lots of laughs.