Monday, November 8, 2010

Naming Characters

One of the biggest challenges I've faced since I began writing is naming characters. It's like naming a baby, except worse, because you have to do it way more often. Some of the challenges are the same, however. Pick too bland of a name, and it's forgettable. Select something too far out, and it's unintentionally comical. I'm sure all of us have read a book that we otherwise liked, except that we could NOT get past some character's ridiculous name.
For my money, one of the finest character namers in romance is Georgette Heyer. The names roll off of the tongue: Miss Frederica Merrivale. The Marquis of Alverstoke. Sir Waldo Hawkridge. Miss Ancilla Trent, just to name a few. They instantly transport us to the world of Regency England.
Outside the genre, Charles Dickens is perhaps the most gifted namer of characters in the English language: Oliver Twist. David Copperfield. Uriah Heep. The Artful Dodger. Fagin. You don't have to ponder long to realize who is a hero and who is a villain.
I cannot claim any particular genius in this area, I'm afraid, so I resort to my bag of tricks. When I'm reading newspapers, magazines, or online and come across interesting names, I put them in a file. (A Microsoft Word file, in my case, but if you're a fan of hard copy, feel free to keep them in a literal file folder.) I organize my potential names by ethnicity, age, and gender. I don't use a real person's name in its entirety; instead, I mix and match various first and last names. When I'm writing a contemporary, especially one set in a major city likely to  have a great deal of ethnic diversity, I take pains to make sure that I include characters of varying ethnic backgrounds for realism. As a baseball fan, I rely on player rosters (easy to find online) as a source of inspiration for many Latino names. Movie credits are another good source. With a little effort and diligence, you can create character names that give life to your story and linger in a reader's mind long after the story is finished.

6 comments:

Lynn Romaine said...

Love talking about naming characters. I can't write a word until I have my characters and my book named. It calls forward the story. Usually the names just pop in and fit perfectly. For instance, my book due out this week, Leave No Trace, is a character searching for her missing aunt - her name is Nick Seek.

Jannine Gallant said...

I go to my trusty baby name book. It gives name origins as well as meanings. You can't be sure if the name you choose for your child will reflect their personality, but we have the luxury of knowing what sort of people our characters are from inception!

Mary Ricksen said...

I think that a characters name immediately gives you feeling for who they are, even without a word of description. Names are sooooo important!

LaVerne Clark said...

Names are so important aren't they? As I was writing Guardian, my heroine was called Lynette. After 2 1/2 chapters, I realised what felt wrong - renamed her Amy - and everything else fell into place. Funnily enough, I never seem to have the same problem with my hero. Maybe I think too much about him! : )

Sharon Noble said...

My characters seem to name themselves, but I've written only three books. I may have to work a little harder on the next three. I love the mix and and match idea.

Lynne Roberts said...

Hi Linda,

So far, my characters have kinda named themselves. For my first book, I used the name of someone who'd sent me a message on facebook... it kinda stuck. When I write fantasy, and world build, I tend to look up baby names for certain nationalities so the all sound authentic. It's the book I have a really hard time naming!

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