How To Name Your Characters

Naming a character seems like the simplest thing. Just write down a name and get on with the story, right!? But all writers knows it’s so much more than that. There’s all sorts of history, character traits, background and culture that can seep through a name. So how do you how about picking one?

image

Plan Your Punchlines

There are plenty of writers who plan the kind of jokes that can come from a name before they really start on the character. From those jokes, they can build a backdrop of characteristic defence mechanisms and reactions.

image
The characters who got the short straw.

Take for example; ‘Chandler Bing’ in Friends. The more you think about the name, the more ridiculous it sounds. And yet, it works perfectly for the character because he coats everything in cynicism and wit (as you would if your name was a combination of a candle maker and a future search engine, I suppose). Another example is ‘Annyong’ from Arrested Development, a Korean boy who is adopted by the Bluth family and – as far as the other characters know – spends all his time repeating his own name. In actual fact, the word ‘Annyong’ means ‘hello’ in Korean and is a joke on the Bluth family’s terrible communication skills.

Avoid Associations

The reaction your readers will have if you reuse recent popular book names.
The reaction your readers will have if you reuse recent popular book names.

It’s safe to say that if you name your character Hermione, Ron or Neville in the next ten years, people are going to have an immediate psychological response. Unless your readers were brought up in a shoe box, they’re likely to think of Harry Potter and your fresh new character will immediately be tarnished. The same goes for Lord Voldemort, Dumbledore and Snape, by the way…

Flick Through Your Yearbook

image
Cracking names and entertaining photos.

Brits are unfortunately deprived of this great tradition, and I imagine there are a fair few other countries who don’t have these either. So, if you’re American, dust off the old yearbook and start flicking through pages of vaguely recognisable names and face. If you’re not American, you’re going to have to conduct an extensive facebook search. Do I have to? Yes, I’m sorry, but you’re going to have to snoop through the online lives of people from your past. But I would never do that! I know, none of us do that in our spare time but I’m afriad your going to have to do it just this once. Oh, okay.

Make A Collection

I collect unusual name. I have notebooks full of them… And so far I have got names from saints, place-names, war memorials, gravestones. I just collect them, I am so interested in names.” – J. K. Rowling

You know when you meet someone who has a weird name that you can hardly pronounce? Or, when someone introduces themself with such an odd name that you have to fight the urge not scream ‘that’s not a name!‘? Or, do you remember that kid in your class who always dreaded the substitute teacher getting to their name in the register? (Shout out to my main gal, Mohua!). Well, time to put those feelings of frustration into use and write them down!

Make It Pronounceable

image

On the other hand, you don’t want to make the name so hard that people don’t know how to say it. Though honestly, the likeliness is that no matter how easy you make it, someone will get it wrong anyway. My grandma once told me that she read an entire book where she mentally pronounced the name Penelope as ‘Penny-lope’. Who can blame her? Silly name, really. (Sorry Penelope’s!) I myself read the name ‘Siobhan’ in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime as ‘So-be-an’ rather than ‘Sher-vaun’. Yep, people are stupid, don’t worry about it.

Get Super Historical and Meaningful

image

The Hunger Games has tonnes of social, political themes throughout the story, and you’ll find many of the names do too. ‘Katniss Everdeen’, ‘Peeta Mellark’ and ‘Greasy Sae’ can all be explained with a little research. Miriam Krule breaks the names down into categories; “the names can be roughly divided into two groups. Characters from the poor, depleted districts are named after plants or other earthy items; those from the regal capital have a Roman influence…” You can read the rest of her interesting decipherings here.

Be Insightful

George RR Martin, the writer of Game of Thrones, has a plethora of funky names in his work. Yet, he has still noted the struggles of coming up with names; “Coming up with the names for the characters is very tough. They can’t be too weird (with like apostrophes and stuff) and they can’t be too “real”, like Francois or Patrick or any kind of a name that is tied to a place.” Most interestingly though, there are some theories that many of the names allude to the ‘ultimate fate’ of the characters. You can read more on the theory here.

Use A Name Generator

image
Found at http://www.behindthename.com

I know what you’re thinking, this is such a cop out! Well, that’s what I thought too, at first. Then, I had a quick browse at what the Internet had to offer and it’s pretty good… There are loads of ‘character name generators’ that let you choose the nationality, historical age and species (if you’re writing fantasy) or your character. If you mix your results with some scrolling through ‘baby name sites’, you can create some great names. Just make sure you delete your internet history so that your partner/friends/parents don’t get freaked out about you having a baby.

Use Your Own History

image

You may have seen pictures shared that say things like find your ‘stripper name’ or ‘find your super-hero name’. They usually require you to combine your first pets name with your mother’s maiden name, or something like that. Now, I’m not suggesting that you use these specifically as the likeliness is that your character will sound like a stripper or a superhero… However, thinking of pet names, street names, school names, etc from your past can inspire some great, unique names.

Auto-Correct

image

This is my new favourite way to come up with names. I am a notoriously bad texter and typer so random words are thrown at me by my phone and tablet, all day long. For example, the most recent accidental name I saved was ‘Daisy Ace’ – no idea what I was trying to type.

How do you come up with your character names??

Advertisements

6 thoughts on “How To Name Your Characters

  1. I keep a name journal! Or at least I used to… I believe I lost it. But it had fun names for places, names from old hymn writers, you name it. I’m not entirely sure how I come up with my names to be honest. Sometimes it just comes to me. I imagine how they look, what they’ll be doing, what their background was like… And then it comes to me. Sometimes their names have meaning, but that isn’t a priority. Characters would be boring if all good characters were named Lucy (for light) and all evil characters were named like…Daemon (for dark). I often change character names a lot…

  2. Mine is FELMA ANEDI, kinda suits me and I like it. My other name is TREE, don’t ask, it’s a South African thing :) x

  3. Great advice! Sometimes I can’t tell if I’m stockpiling names for future kids or characters, but I suppose they’re both worth thinking about!

    1. Thank you! Haha, yes, I’m the same. Every time I say ‘that’s a nice name’ my boyfriend looks a bit scared and I have to finish the sentence with ‘…for a character’.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s