Monday, 24 January 2011

Naming Characters

A very big part of a new WIP is naming characters. The initial Urban Fantasy I was going to write was easy, because I already had main characters, but since I went off to another idea, I needed new characters. So the brainstorm started. And along with that, thoughts about names.

Names are of course very important. There are issues of certain facts and realism. You can't have a modern young woman named Edna without some sort of explanation. No offence to any Edna out there, but I only know or have heard of Ednas who belong firmly in my grandmother's generation. So if your 20 year-old is named Edna, you bet there is some reason for it. Or I think there should be. 

But other than that, we do have a lot of freedom with modern characters. In the world today, names are no longer restricted to one culture or one geographical location. Baby names range from weird to wonderful, and that could be used for characters. So realism I can manage. But for me, names are really really important. They have to resonate with me perfectly for that specific character. 

Some characters come with a full name. Other come with a first name and then I have to fumble around for a surname. Then there is the issue of bigger picture. Sometimes, I find names for hero and heroine that I love, but they end up sounding too similar or several supporting characters end up with names that begin with same letters or end in same sounds. Then I have to change some. I have been known to spend days trolling through baby names websites for inspiration if the right name doesn't strike. 

I prefer to have final names as early in the process as possible, because names are very much part of a character's identity, and I like to start thinking of them with their right name immediately. I am sometimes less fussy with really minor characters, but all main characters and important supporting characters do get a lot of attention before I name them. Though I do love the ones who tell me what their names are from the start. 

What about you? How do you name your characters? How fussy are you?


  1. While I certainly understand the appeal of the character name as a literary tool, what's most important to me about the name is its authenticity to the character's time, place, and parentage. I often cringe when I'm reading and it's obvious that a writer has overly crafted the names in a story. It's a matter of personal taste, but names that try too hard can be distracting for me.

    (I know nothing about your names, so please don't feel that I'm implying your names are like that!)

  2. - Most of the time, the names pop out of nowhere, they just appear with the character - as you wrote - are a part of their personality. Given fact!
    - Sometimes I have to research a little, because I simply don't have the knowledge, e.g. I needed an old traditional name with Irish or Scottish background.
    - And sometimes I use names of characters in books or movies, because they remind me of my character and/or have the qualities, the look I have in mind.

  3. C. N.

    You are exactly right, and no I don't take it at all personally. I am of the same opinion, where some names simply don't fit the story. Of course personal taste do matter, and some genres - like category romance for example tend to get away with names that other genres can't, but on the whole I like mine to fit the characters and the story.

  4. It makes things so much easier when characters decide to choose their own names. Or, rather, I think they *always* choose their names; it's just that sometimes they pull a Rumpelstiltskin and play coy about sharing their names with their poor author. I sometimes spend hours pawing through baby-name books for solutions. The time is always well spent, though, if only because the right name perfectly solidifies a character.

  5. K. M.

    Yes, I love it when that happens. All th time spent is totally worth it. I know when the right name comes along, but it just "clicks." In my current WIP, for one of the characters who will be a main supporting character, I spent time coming up with a name. But then I ended up changing him a bit, and his life, suddenly different name popped up, and it all made sense.

  6. Many times I go to baby name sites.

    I'm not big on surnames. I might mention them once or twice in the story. And for minor characters I may not mention them at all.