HOW TO CHOOSE A CHARACTER’S NAME
Choosing the names for your characters is so critical. Many of us spend so much time trying to decide what our characters should be called. I know that in my own experience I have changed the names of my characters several times – even well into the book.
For book 1 of the trilogy that I’m working on, I was completely done with the book only to realize that one character name was too bland. It simply didn’t portray what I wanted to communicate.
And that’s exactly it! A character’s name allows the reader to judge your character without knowing anything about her.
What comes to mind with the name Sheila?
Sheila seems stern but mystical, in that she’s not easy to figure out. She probably is very strong-willed.
What comes to mind with the name Payne?
Payne seems to be hard-nosed with little concern for others. He probably has little regard for people he knows, and he silently enjoys hurting others emotionally.
What comes to mind with the name Alexander?
Alexander seems sophisticated and noble. He wouldn’t be the kind of guy who just let injustices roll off his shoulders.
There’s so much more to explore from the characters above, but immediately there are assumptions that your reader will make from the name that you give to the characters. Play off those assumptions!
Since you know that Sheila is mystical and hard to figure out, you could write her to be just like her name implies. Or you could go the other route. You could write her contrary to what the reader would assume. Now you’ve created another dynamic. Either way, you should let your character’s name be another tool in progressing your premise.
Check out WRITER’S ANONYMOUS for more understanding on a premise.
One important note about names is that they should not be complicated. Some people would contest this, but I have certainly read my share of manuscripts where writers are trying too hard to make their characters seem “out-of-this-worldly.”
I’ve read names similar to Yaaguel and Zenorthoralia and Praueia. Names that are tough to pronounce will become a nuisance to the reader, and soon the reader will become distracted from your story. The focus will become trying to pronounce your character’s name. And then the focus will be the coffee table as the reader gently places your book down in exchange for some mind-numbing NetFlix.
I think polling Facebook friends is a great way to get feedback on a name. But, now that you mention it, I think it would be wise to give the premise so there is a context for the name.
Yeah, because you certainly don’t want a dragon-slayer named Winthorpe
Sadly, I would totally do that. If it was a humorous story.
I hate it when writers make up these really weird names for their characters, names I can’t even remember/pronounce when trying to discuss the story. You can make them seem mythical and otherworldly without giving them annoying names.
I actually don’t spend much time thinking up names for my characters; they just sorta come to me, I guess. xD
Zen, that’s pretty cool that the names just come to you. Sometimes names come to me, and other times I’ll just give a character a working name until I can get some more of the story down.
And yeah you’re right: a character named Zadodual is not someone I’d care to read much about.
I usually think up what the character looks like physically, then name them. For example, I just added a minor character that was scrawny, mousy, and kind of unattractive. He is also of German descent. But I thought it would be funny if I gave him a sexy German name, and within my WIP mentioned that he had the name of European underwear model, but didn’t look the part.
hahaha yeah that’s pretty crafty lol
I think the problem with reading too much into a name is that you tend to base your opinions of a given name on people you’ve known in the past. And obviously that’s different for everyone. My gut instincts on the names you have above are quite different than you’ve shown. I don’t tend to worry about naming characters, I just pick ones I like, and then as early in the book as I can i try and get the character’s personality and traits over as soon as possible.
Jessica, that’s a good observation. And though names are not the end of a person, they really can make a difference. I just would not be too intrigued by an assassin named Maribel. So though names do not define a person, they do assist with the understanding of a person.
I agree with you. I think names should be unique when applicable, but not impossible to pronounce or too out there. You’re right, the focus then shifts from the character to the name, which is not good :p
That being said, naming characters is one of my favorite things about writing! I already have names picked out for characters I’ve barely created. 😀
That’s so great! And yeah, i know what you mean. I have names picked out too, and I still have yet to find a plot that fits that character. But I’m getting there 😉
I shall resist the urge to say something about the usual German-bashing above (however harmless it may have been in intention) and just say that certain names have different connotations in different countries. In the UK Sheila is quite derogative and doesn’t describe a mysterious woman at all. Names like Tracy and Troy for example are also describing a certain negative type of person here in the UK. Names should be as easy to pronounce as possible, since we write for an international market. Having somebody review your book on radio or TV who simply finds the protagonist’s name incomprehensible and ” unspeakable” is not a good marketing move.
I certainly agree. Unspeakable names will destroy your work, and we are all writing for an international market. That said, we do have to be aware of our immediate target. As an American, I would be writing for Americans and Sheila does have a gentler context.
In Dragon Tattoo, the character is named Lisabeth which I believe most people would agree gives her the mystic edge. If she had been named Elizabeth, then she would have become more sophisticated.
As far as the German content, there was certainly no harm in it. If it makes things better, my wife and I are part German.
Thanks for you comments, Maria. I always appreicate them because they are insightful!
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