What goes into naming characters?
Names have power. They form a direct link to a person. Character names can do double duty by conveying a sense, or a feeling about the character.
Choosing names for your characters is important, not the least of which is that you’re going to encounter them on nearly every page of your manuscript. For me, a name that doesn’t exactly fit a character feels like a bump in an otherwise smooth road.
How do you find a name that fits your character? Well your mileage may vary, but here’s what works for me.
I don’t start out with a name when creating characters. Sure, one will occasionally pop in there, but that’s the exception, not the rule.
When I create characters, I spend a lot of time up front thinking about and jotting down what I know about the character. Physical features, height, etc. anything that stands out.
As these details emerge, some spark others, and so on. After a while, I start to get a feel for the character, and I get the first stirrings of what the name could be.
This isn’t actual names, it’s more visceral, more sense oriented. What should the name sound like? How should it feel rolling off your tongue?
At this point, I’ve got an idea of how the name begins, the sound that it makes, maybe how many syllables it has.
Then I start playing with name generators. Scrivener has a good one, and there are additional name databases that you can import – One thing for the wish-list: There should be some kind of progress bar so that you can tell if names are still importing, or if the app has stalled.
Anyway, I’ll run through a bunch of random names, and I’ll jot down ones that seem like they would work.
Be open to serendipity during this phase, you might see something that works, either for this character or another one.
I’ll stop when I’ve got a short list of somewhere around 10 to 15 names. Then I’ll go through the list. If any potential name strikes me with any doubt, I’ll cross it off the list. I’m pretty ruthless at this point, and looking for reasons to reject a name.
Of the ones that are left, I’ll pit one against the rest. Do I like this name, or that name better. In the case of a tie, both names stay – for now.
Eventually, I’ll winnow myself down to two names and I’ll go back and forth between them. I’ll speak them aloud. I’ll use them in sentences, etc. One will invariably come out on top.
Once I have a name (Unless it’s super common), I’ll do a google search of it and see what comes up.
I want to avoid anyone famous, and I don’t want names of characters from other books – unless I’m writing in a completely different genre. Even then, I’m careful.
Here is where it gets more subjective. If a name is too close to something already out there, I’ll look at alternate spellings – This technique doesn’t always work, but enough to warrant checking, and it may lead me in a new direction.
Speaking of which, all through this process, you want to be open to serendipity. You never know when something that fits a character perfectly will just appear.
The name of my Main Character in my current Project, I saw as a decal on the rear window of somebody’s car. Not the whole name, just the first name. Up until that point, I had a name, but wasn’t completely in love with it. When I saw this name, it just clicked.
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