How To Survive Naming Your Characters #Writers #AmWriting

 

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:

  1. The amount of time you will spend thinking about the names of imaginary folk will shock you.
  2. If you struggled naming children, pets or toys – you are in for a rough ride!
  3. Loved ones may panic or get excited when you are caught browsing baby naming sites.
  4. When someone uses your character’s name in real life you will get a strange tingling sensation.
  5. You might experience some embarrassment when revealing the names of your characters.
  6. 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!
  7. Your characters will change throughout the drafting process and it might be that they grow out of their name.
  8. 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.
  9. Different genres will require different names.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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!
  13. 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!

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I am a blonde writer of romantic comedy fiction.

68 thoughts on “How To Survive Naming Your Characters #Writers #AmWriting

  1. True Story:
    I hadn’t written anything for ages. A year. I kept delaying the writing process, over and over and over again, because things weren’t perfect.* I wanted to write, but was holding myself back for one reason or another.**
    I recently decided*** to start writing again, mostly to scratch that creative itch****, but didnt have character names. Rather than delay yet again, I decided***** to just go with ‘Sam’ and ‘Frodo’.
    Worked a treat.

    So choosing a name is important…but don’t ‘Not Write’ just because you havent figured it out yet!

    Cheers
    KT

    *I was lazy
    **Just super-lazy really.
    ***My wife told me too
    ****because I was being a grump
    *****My wife wouldn’t let me

  2. I find myself worrying that if I use a name that suits my character… but an acquaintance has that name… that they will assume it’s about them!!!
    BUT IT’S MOST OFTEN NOT!!

      1. Oh no!!! Bless you Lucy!! Get well vibes winging themselves your way! ☄☄☄☄
        I have my Lil Man on his sick bed too since last Friday with concussion… worried sick but so glad Hubby Dearest is at home with him. 2 hospitals… one GP appt and still nothing to help…. 😢

  3. Interesting. I find that I often helped my characters to change their name during the story. It seems my books depend on the characters’ sense of identity and as that grows they leave their given names and use a different one.In ” Lane’s End” the man doesn’t argue when someone gets his name wrong and in “Never Run Away” the woman changes her name deliberately. Maybe all of us would feel liberated if we had a change of name?

    1. Fascinating! I’ve tried changing names, too, but I don’t know that I’ve thought it out as well as you have! Sometimes, for writing, it’s a gut-level thing where a name just doesn’t seem to fit the character. And then, if you’re writing historical and other genres of realistic fiction, then you’ve got an extra obligation to be accurate!

  4. I hate naming characters, and it’s kind of hit and miss. I usually check the Major League Baseball rosters, because some of them have great names. Now I’m writing a baseball themed book, and can’t snipe from that source.

  5. I also try to pick names that mean something. In Clash of Tides, since most of the characters are mermaids and mermen, all their names relate to water.

  6. Yes, yes, yes. Such a great post, Lucy. You’ve really got to climb into the characters’ worlds, esp with the ‘lead’ protag. I’m not the strongest on visual aspects (I’m better at hearing and some of the other senses), so I almost never picture what the character physically looks like other than generalities, but for a short story I recently wrote, I felt it necessary to write down the general ages, nationalities/heritages, profession, etc. of the cast of characters. You’ve really got to interrogate your characters, as you basically say here. This information should be pasted in one’s writing room! 🙂

  7. I loved the “things to consider – start with the parents” section, as it forces you to deepen your understanding of your characters. There’s no way they’ll be one-dimensional after going through such a process!

    Get well soon, hon!

  8. Wise post!
    This is why I write Fantasy, I get to make up the names! This has its own pitfalls, imagine my horror to find out the name carefully crafted was actually young peoples’ urban slang for a lack of …..errr….intimate personal hygiene…there was no way I could have inadvertently encountered that! (true story)….
    In Ctrl + F…Replace, We Trust!

  9. Naming characters is a headache for me. I think the issue I have is that I have too many names to choose from. I have lists on Evernote for girls’ names, boys’ names, and surnames. I gather them from observation and I’m adding to the lists daily. It may be a good problem to have, maybe not. In either case, it’s maddening.

    But you make some good points. I think what will help me is giving myself time to think about the stories. Don’t head straight for my lists, but really listen to the stories I want to write. Doing so helps me name characters. After a draft, the names may change, but if I listen to the story, it becomes more clear.

  10. Brilliant! I love your list but when I got to ‘movie credits’ I was shouting ‘that’s me!!’ The kids can’t understand why I whip out a notepad at the end of every film we watch ha ha 😉

  11. You also might want to google your characters’ names to make sure there isn’t an actual human being floating around out there with the same name who shares a similar background. You don’t want your fictional mafia don, crooked congressman, or incompetent surgeon to share a name with a real-life counterpart.

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