Naming characters is hard and there are painful consequences if you get it wrong. If you have ever written 70k + words with a character who has an irritating name, you will know where I am coming from on this.
Here are some things you need to know before you start the naming process:
- The amount of time you will spend thinking about the names of imaginary folk will shock you.
- If you struggled naming children, pets or toys – you are in for a rough ride!
- Loved ones may panic or get excited when you are caught browsing baby naming sites.
- When someone uses your character’s name in real life you will get a strange tingling sensation.
- You might experience some embarrassment when revealing the names of your characters.
- If you talk in your sleep you can expect to say your character names. Handy tip – supply your loved one with a sheet full of your current characters so when you are letting off soft moans and saying ‘oh John yes..!’ – they can do a quick check to see whether ‘John’ is fictional or someone they should be worried about. Sigh!
- Your characters will change throughout the drafting process and it might be that they grow out of their name.
- Their name stays with you. Once you give them a name you will struggle to use it for anything else (pets / children). Every time you use your character’s name – bingo – they appear in your mind! Also linked to this is your general view of the piece of work they featured in. I have found that the names of characters from my bad / ‘pile of literary wrong’ stories always haunt me the most.
- Different genres will require different names.
- During the naming process (which can go on for some time) you will find new appreciation for movie credits! They are great for getting your creative name juices flowing.
- You will have to get some self-control as initially you will want to use the list of favourite baby / pet names you have in your head. Stop. It is really easy to get carried away with naming characters and you can end up giving someone a name which is either unrealistic or annoying.
- If your character has children you are also in for a challenging time as naming the offspring of characters is enough to drive you potty!
- Choose wisely my friend.
Here are some things to consider when naming characters:
- Start with the parents. Think about your character’s parents. Why? They name your character, not you. Gasp! When I realised this….a little bit of my character naming excitement died. I know this is tough, handing over naming responsibility to other fictional folk, but it’s the most realistic approach. So, after profiling fictional Mum and Dad give some thought to what names were popular at the time when your character was born? Think about their nationality, culture, setting and the time period. Play the role of the parent and think about what would influence their choice.
- Nicknames. These are useful as they can reflect how the family and friends of a character perceive them. Useful for characterisation. Plus remember that parents rarely use their children’s proper names; I have so many names for mine – sigh!
- Surnames. They will add a new layer of character naming complexity.
- Breathe Life into Your Character’s Name! Keep saying it whilst listening to how it sounds. Shout it, scream it and whisper it. This sort of thing brings your character to life. It also helps you to see whether their name is believable.
- Be careful when asking for feedback on character names. It’s a bit like discussing child names – everyone has an opinion and no one will like your preferred name. I would just go on gut instinct.
- Think of other character name fit. Make sure you don’t get carried away and give two characters a similar name. I have done this and readers do notice it.
Try to have fun with this. It’s not an easy process and can end in literary heartache.
Have a fabulous day!