Finding the right name for your characters is one of the most important things you will do when writing a story. Characters are people, too, and they need a name that suits them. People judge people by their names and they will judge your character by their name as well. When naming a character there are many things that you need to take into consideration, including their age, their personality and their nationality.
When naming my characters, the meaning of a name is one thing that I will take into consideration, and also the shortened version of that name. Nicknames are very common and you will need to consider if one is appropriate for your character, and, if it is, which nickname is suitable.
Sometimes when a character first forms in my head, a name will come with them. Sometimes I have gotten a name first and created a character based around that name. Sometimes I know that I want a name for a character to start with a certain letter of the alphabet and have to work out the rest. I keep a baby name book on hand and use it a lot to look up names and their meanings. I also look up names on the web, especially if I want to look up popular names in certain years.
Different genres call for different types of names. When writing contemporary young adult stories I’ll look up common names on the web. If my character is 17 I’ll look up popular names from 1995, going through the top 100 boys and girls names and pick one off there. I’ll read them all and pick the one that jumps out at me. As someone who likes to write a lot of fantasy, I tend to make up names as well. With names that you have made up you don’t want them sounding too ridiculous, or make them too hard to pronounce. And I think you can confuse readers if you give characters names that sound similar, though if you have created a new world the names will have to have some similarity/ a common thread to them. To make up knew names I’ll make a slight change to an ordinary name or mash two names together. For more on writing fantasy names you can check out this great post by Kathrine Roid.
When I pick a name, I go with my gut. I just know a name is THE name once I hear it.
I don’t like starting a story without the main characters names worked out, but on the odd occasion where it is taking me a while to find THE name I will just write ‘girl’ or ‘boy’ in place of a name and keep writing – I can change it once I’ve found a name, that is the brilliance of editing.
Picking a last name for your character is just as important as picking the first. You need to find a last name that goes well with the first name. You can look up many websites these days that generate last names that will match the first name you chose. You just type in the first name and hit the button and a last name will appear, if you don’t like it, hit the button again and again and so on until you find the last name you like. And the phone book is always handy for finding last names, too.
When it comes to naming your characters, some will come to you easily, some you will have to dig around for like treasure. I enjoy the challenge of naming my characters, it’s all part of getting to know them, and you have to know everything about them if you want to write lively, memorable characters that the reader will fall in love with. When you find the perfect name for your character you will know, just like when you are naming your own children.
I hope these tips have helped. Good luck with naming your characters, and happy writing 🙂
#Next week there won’t be a Writing Tip Wednesday. I have decided to make this a fortnightly post instead of a weekly one. On the weeks I’m not posting writing tips I will post a writerly update telling you all about where I am up to with my writing.