While I am not about to question Shakespeare on his famous line, I am a names person, and that means they are vastly important to me, no matter what the aroma! Names of characters, names of bands, book and song titles…you name it, I’ve got a list of at least three or four hundred ideas. And the list grows longer every day. Good character names are vital for powerful novels.
I love to look up the meanings, the origins, famous people who have shared the name with others (including my characters). Names evoke emotions, images, even aromas.
The steps I take in choosing names for characters are as follows:
- Reflect on each character’s story and personality. Determine a word or two-word phrase that puts them into a neat package. If neat isn’t possible, messy packages are good, too.
- Look for names that reflect that meaning.
- Double-check the chosen name(s) to make sure that they fit properly into the era of the book. After all, many of the popular names today were not around 100 years ago, or, potentially, even a decade ago.
- Look for other spellings for the names to choose the one that most suits the character.
- Look for foreign words that suit the meaning of the characters, and use these as last names, when appropriate.
- I say the names aloud multiple times. Does it roll off the tongue (if it should)? Do the syllables complement each other? (Using two names of the same syllable count is not a good idea unless you’re aiming for a harsh, cut-off kind of sound for the name, for example.)
- Do the names suit the genre? After all, a romance novel character shouldn’t be named “Dirk Helkinson” unless he’s the rough, rough construction worker that your protagonist is trying to avoid having to be caught alone in an elevator with…but in a western, he might just be the hero sheriff, raised by marauding Comanche.
- Optional: Any character other than the three to five leads may be named after a friend or loved one from my past. (WARNING: if that person reads your book, make sure that they understand completely that their namesake is not your view of him/her in reality. You can get into real trouble with this!)
- Optional: Have friends suggest character names (always checking on era, etc. for appropriateness, of course).
Thus far, some of my favorite character names have been Nadia Trouve (means “hope found” – from a musical script of that name I wrote several years back), Withypoll (means: “twig head” – from my musical “The Dragons Kept Me Up”), Jesse Cramer (named for a dear friend from grade school), Nat Walters (named after a favorite movie character from childhood), Chinks McGillis (I just love a good cowboy name!) and Daisy Meeks (taken from an old nickname for Margaret – named for my grandmother).
How do you name your characters? What matters most as you choose those names? Let us know in the comments! Maybe you’ll inspire someone else.
Need more NaNoWriMo inspiration and help? Check out these other pieces.
Editor-in-Chief of The MockingOwl Roost, Rita Mock-Pike is the granddaughter of aviatrix, Jerrie Mock, first woman to pilot an airplane solo around the world. Rita has found inspiration from her grandmother’s life and flight and pursued many of her own dreams in theatre, podcasting, novel writing, and cooking up delicious food from around the world. She now writes on food, travel, pets, faith, and the arts. She’s happily married to Matt, and faithfully serves the very fluffy kitten queen, Lady Stardust.