Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What's in a Name?

One of the more challenging aspects of writing a story or novel is probably naming our characters. Several criteria can come into play:

Does the name mean something?
Does it reflect the character's personality?
Do other characters use a nickname for that character?
Do I, the author, like the name (can I live with it for the duration of the novel)?
Is the name too boring or common?

Some things I also like to consider are these:

* How the name looks on paper. Because most readers don't read aloud to themselves, I think the name has to "look right" on paper (whatever that means).

* Being aware of the name in relation to other character names. (This is only a personal preference) - I don't like character names to start with the same letter. As a reader, when I see Alan, Amy, Andrew, Adam, and Alyssa, I get confused. I tend to skim over names pretty quickly as I read, and if they all start with the same letter, it slows me down. I have to stare at the name, reflect on it. And it takes me OUT of the story.

* Watching out for names that conjure too-personal images. I can't use names that have a strong personal meaning for me--the name of my mother, sister, dog--those are pretty much off limits, because of the heavy association I have with them.

Most writers probably already know this trick -- scouring baby name sites for character names is such a great resource. You can sort by most popular, by country, by gender, etc. Really helpful.

What are some of your tricks or pet peeves, when it comes to naming your characters? I'd love to hear them....


  1. I can agonize over names. I visit name-meaning websites often to get something that fits my character. At the same time, I'm too lazy to spend much time researching it and therefore wind up with a lot of "A" names.

  2. I hate character naming. I mean, I really hate it. Because I hate it so much, with my main characters, I like to decide what quality I think represents that character and look up the names that go with that meaning. Side characters really depend on who and what they are.

    However, I will say that that was not true with Tib. With Tib, I had the name first. I wanted to write a story about a boy named Tib, and, no, I don't know why. It's just a name that popped into my head.

  3. Tib - cool name! Yeah, only occasionally will a character's name "present itself" to me. I usually have to do research, pick a name, "live" with it awhile, and then maybe it's the right one.