Thursday, February 26, 2015

What's in a Name

One day it happens. You're blessed with a budding idea of joy. That little character you hold in your hands, the pride you've spent months cultivating, stands before you. You test the waters with hair coloring, eye shape and the perfect lips by scouring pinterest. Eventually you settle on that perfect character, the one the masses will remember for ages. And then it hits you. What is his name? What will the people call her?

After all the careful planning, you haven't come up with a name.

Coming up with a character name can be difficult. The name you choose says a lot about what type of person your character will be. Will she be a Myrtle working in an eighteenth century dress shop? Is he a William who fights pirates to save his damsel in distress?

Choosing the name for your character can be as simple as using a friend or an acquaintances first name, or a name that you simply adore, to researching and choosing the perfect name, background and meaning in a baby book. The main character from one of my manuscripts is Evie because I fell in love with Rachel Weiss' Evie from The Mummy. Having the perfect name can transform your character. 

Here are my tips for picking the perfect character name.



1. RESEARCH

It's that ugly "R" word again. The one that seems synonymous with being an author. Research. Research doesn't just begin when you decide to search for the perfect agent or publishing house. Research starts the moment that inkling of an idea tickles your brain. Names, much like setting, require researching the era your character belongs in. You aren't going to name your renaissance princess Sienna. It wasn't a name that was common during the time period. And you certainly aren't going to name your Japanese business man Caleb, unless he was adopted by American's or has some background that gives the name sense. You don't need to go out and buy a baby book to research meanings and time periods. Babynames.com is an excellent source, not just for searching names, but to also search by meaning. The meaning of the name can by just as important as the name itself. Spend a little time researching names and meanings. It will help in the long run.



2. SAY THE NAME OUT LOUD

But I feel ridiculous doing this, Niki. Yeah, I do too. My kids always look at me funny whenever I start reading anything out loud, but it helps. Your book may end up an audio book at some point. It pays to make sure that it's a name that's going to come across well out loud. Anita Dickinme may look good on paper, but out loud it's just plain silly.

3. ALLITERATIVE INITIALS

Now, this isn't something I've used, but it something I've noticed in a few books, particularly Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, or Severus Snape in The Harry Potter Series. It also occurs a lot in comic books. The repeating initial seems to make the name more memorable, in my opinion. If you're having a tough time coming up with a name, try something with alliterative initials.

4. REPEATING FIRST INITIALS AND MIDDLE INITIALS

When you have a large group of characters, it can be hard to name them all. What's even more difficult? Characters with the same initials. Sometimes it works. I have a manuscript where the two secondary characters both start with T, Takeshi Sato and Tawny Saunders. For my manuscript it seems to work, but it may not for everyone. Same thing with giving characters middle initials. A good reason to avoid that middle initials? No one wants to name their character after a known murder or give someone a reason to sue them for having a name too close to their own. 

These steps, like many others in writing, can get overwhelming at times, but it pays off in the end. You don't want to name a Japanese character with a Chinese name and have your readers tell you you've screwed up after all is said and done. We want to have the Celtic spelling of Brynt make sense with our Russian character. These characters are our babies, and like with our real children, we want to give them names of their own that have meaning and reason.

What are your tips for choosing the perfect character name? Leave your best name in the comments and tomorrow, 2/27/15, I'll choose a winner for a $15 Starbucks gift card. Look forward to the winner and a new blog post tomorrow!




10 comments:

  1. Names are hard for me. I tend to make everyone look too much alike; Marvin, Martin, Martha, etc. I hadn't thought about eBooks, but that's a really good point. Great post! Best name? Marvin Adrian (who's a dog)

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    1. Yeah, the audio books thing is pretty important, I think. Love the dog name!

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  2. Would a rose smell as sweet?
    Character names are more important than a lot of authors realize. Science fiction and fantasy authors tend to make the classic mistake of using names that are unpronounceable, ie Flathusenthd. This makes it hard for the reader to connect with that character.
    My favorite naming style is Anne McCaffrey's Pern series in which the characters' names were shortened with an apostrophe once they became Dragonriders.

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    1. That's awesome Mary! And as a slush reader for Inkling Literary, I have to agree. Weird names are so difficult.

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  3. Enjoyed this one and BIG yes to the being careful of the whole which culture does this name come from!

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    1. I agree, especially with Asian names. They may look and sound similar, but there is a definite difference.

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  4. Another home run by Niki! Great post. I agree, names too hard to pronounce, let alone remember, will distract a reader and lessen the connection. These are great posts because a lot more goes into writing and coming up with a story than people realize!

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    1. Thanks Janet! Names are so crucial! It's amazing how some people don't recognize or understand this.

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  5. My system is not quite so elaborate. I used to labor over names, picking six or so, and then whittling it down. After so many stories, though, the names become a drop in the bucket of the story and not worth so much effort. To me, they don't transform the character. That's what I do when I create the character, and if I mess that up, the "perfect name" is not going to make a difference.

    For short story #1 I'm working on, I was at lunch and needed names, so I looked through the newspaper. Grabbed this first name, that last name. Done. For short story #2, I went onto this big FB group I'm on, grabbed a couple of last names. Wandered onto another one and found some first names. Done. If I'm doing fantasy, I do use a baby name book so I can look for the same origin family.

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  6. A arms makes a man courage and when a man fond a arms (it may be knife,sight bow shoot gun etc) he try to prevent the attackers. but this is most important that you never try to use it in illegal purpose.

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