Monday, November 22, 2010

the name game

Wordle: Untitledpicking the perfect name for your unborn child is hard.  picking the perfect name for your fictional character? nearly impossible. 
just think about it, you don't even know your child yet.  you don't know what their personality will be like. you don't know if your son will be athletic or artistic, you don't know if your daughter will be a journalist or an astronaut.  and whether you  name her heather or claire really isn't going to make the difference.
but your character, on the other hand, is already born.  you've been thinking about him for months.  he's short, he always wears hats, he talks in questions.  his name can't be Charles.  that would be too predictable.  but it can't be Sterling either, that just doesn't fit.  Billy sounds made up but Brian sounds like you didn't try hard enough.
as if the technicalities of naming your characters aren't hard enough... there's also the matter of dodging names of people you know.  i'm bad at this. for instance, my first born son was named after my father (safe enough) but about three months AFTER he was born my husband brought to my attention the fact that it was also the same name as the guy i was dating when he (my husband) and i met.  i had to swear to him with my fingers crossed over my heart that it was just a coincidence!
the same thing happened with my first novel.  you see, there was this boy.  he lived in my neighborhood - i could see his house from my front window.  my mom wanted me to marry him someday and the whole world knew it - including him.  his name was tyler.  (if you're reading this tyler, you know who you are) but i haven't seen or talked him in YEARS!  we're both happily married (to other people) and living on opposite sides of the country.  so how was i supposed to realize the irony of the name of my main character, the best friend, the boy that lives across the street, the main love interest... which just happens to be jess tyler
my book was already published, for sale and being purchased before i realized the horrible mistake.  and now the name is out there.  the story is written and tyler (wherever you are) is hopefully not thinking that i'm secretly still in love with him. 
so let me stress to you one more time.  naming your kids?  important.  naming your characters?  critical!  think long and hard about this.  this isn't a flippant decision. 
some tips from my short history of experience:
1. as previously mentioned, DON'T name characters after real people in your life. 
2. DON'T even try to change the name of a real person in your life by a few letters (i.e. mark stevenson into clark beevenson)
3. DO say the name over and over in your head and out loud to make sure it doesn't sound made-up or like a mother goose rhyme. 
4. DON'T make different characters names rhyme either.  (i.e. the main characters should never be named jane jones and blaine bones)
5. DON'T choose stereotypical names.  everyone is expecting the most popular cheerleader in the school to be named Brittany.  Try naming her Gretta and see where it takes you. 
6. DO give your characters names that are easy to pronounce.  I hate reading books where the main character's name is completely unpronounceable and no one at the book club meeting can agree on how your supposed to say it.  how are you supposed to bond with a character whose name you don't even know?

that's all i have for now.  i've only written one complete book so my expertise on the subject is limited.  i'd love to know how you have chosen the names of your characters.  the process.  your favorite names (i promise i won't steal them.) maybe you disagree with my tips.  maybe you love rhyming names.  maybe all your characters are named after real people in your life.  let us know how it works for you.

after all, it's one of the most important decisions you can make. because you may not be naming your unborn child, but the name will definitely determine how your characters and eventually your story come to life.


  1. Love your post. Some of the names I came up with for a story I'm working on came from writing down the names of exits as we drove from AZ to California.

  2. i LOVE that idea! i'm totally picturing one of the characters in your book with the name of Phoenix Las Vegas! :)

  3. Great things to consider. I never write characters based upon people I know.

    The title is what's killing me. Ugh.

  4. thanks for your comments donna. i agree, the title is tough. maybe i'll do a post on that next. i'd love to get others opinions and ideas on how they come up with it. what kind of book are you writing?

  5. just name your daughter after the most inspiring person you know...Anne

  6. I'm working on a MG fantasy for NaNo (won't make the deadline =D). No problem with its title. I've got about 50k words on a SciFi. No problem with its title.

    The one that's killing me is the WIP that's almost done. It's an adventure romance and has just over 96k words. Unfortunately it has 3 very distinct parts, and I think that's what' giving me the grief. Ugh. None of my beta readers have been any help either.