Saturday, September 26, 2009

What's in a Name?

Choosing a character name can be a difficult task - one that requires much thought and deliberation. If you're lucky, names come to you instantly, through some cosmic channel, and you don't have to work so hard. But, for the rest of us, it can take a lot of time to decide on a name.

The names are important because you, as a writer, have to live with that name for a long, long time. Names can be symbolic of something, or can cleverly fit the personality of the character. Or, they can also just sound great rolling off the tongue.

Some advice I've learned throughout the years:

1) Keep the first name down to minimum syllables. If the name is 3 or more syllables, it can be a little daunting to read over and over again. If you want, develop a nickname which makes it easier on the reader. For instance, one of my character names is Dorothea Farraday, but I call her "Dora," for short.

2) Try not to have character names that look the same on the page. Having them all start with a different letter can help. It can be really confusing for the reader to try and juggle names like Arthur, Alan, Angie, and Antonio. Their eyes have to stop and determine which character is which. It's much better if they're Ronald, Guy, Lenny, and Amanda.

3) Don't be afraid to experiment, to change character names, even later on as you edit the book. Just be sure you catch all of them when you're replacing them in the manuscript! :-)

4) Use the internet for help. I use, oddly enough, baby naming sites to help me figure out character names. This one is my favorite. There's also a last name site that's fantastic.

So, what's your advice/experience when choosing character names? Any tricks of the trade that help you out, make things easier?


  1. Because I use characters across a series, I made a spreadsheet in Excel to keep track of character names, relationships, and the book(s) they are in. That way I can sort by book name to make sure I haven't used Arthur, Alan, Angie, and Antonio in the same book. :-)

  2. I have some strange names in my pirate story. Some I cam up with on my own, like Grapeshot Clive, Rackham the Red and Shiver me Simon. Others were quite a challenge. Thank God for the internet. There are several name generator sites, that are good not just for characters but places and in my case, ships, as well. I also like to research name meanings for main characters.

    Try this one: Seventh Sanctum

  3. I sometimes use this site for first names:

    I like to go with a name that is a little unique. Something memorable, but not too strange.

  4. Names have 'feeling'....some are soft, some strong....I like the idea of keeping a journal of names...and these you can find from daily life, magazines, newspapers, TV, endless possibilities.