Naming fictional characters is one of those writing activities a non-writer might view as...simple to do. *Sigh* They probably think we pluck a random name out of thin air, sit down to write and bring that newly named fictional person to life. If only naming a fictional character was that simple.
Naming a character can cause the writer all sorts of havoc:
- The amount of time you will spend thinking about the names of characters will shock you. Some of us can take weeks, even months!
- If you struggled naming children, pets or toys – you will find choosing names for characters to be much the same; guaranteed huffing, puffing and hours of googling the hell out of names.
- Accept that no matter how much name research you do – you will end up frantically texting a writing friend late at night with, ‘what do I name them?’
- Loved ones may panic or get excited when you are caught browsing baby naming sites.
- It is guaranteed that once you name your character their name will start appearing in real life.
- Accept that you will come up with some awful and jarring names which sadly will become permanent fixtures of your brain.
- Your characters will change throughout the drafting process and it might be that they grow out of their name.
- The name you have chosen for your character might start to annoy the hell out of you. This can be tough but I have found your story will start to tank once you start grimacing at typing your character’s name.
- Your character’s name stays with you. Once you give them a name you will struggle to use it for anything else; pets or children etc.
- Every time you use your character’s name – bingo – they appear in your mind. Also linked to this is your general view of the piece of work they featured in. I have found that the names of characters from my bad / ‘pile of literary wrongs’ stories always haunt me the most.
- During the naming process (which can go on for some time) you will find new appreciation for movie credits! They are great for getting your creative name juices flowing.
- If your character has children you are also in for a challenging time as naming the offspring of characters will cause more stress.
- You might find yourself wide awake a 3am trying to figure out what name to not only your main character but also…their love interest. This will open up a whole new world of name pain.
Here are some things to consider when naming characters:
- Have a few reserve names up your writer sleeve. It sounds like extra work but believe me when I say disliking a character’s name during the drafting process can be painful and in my experience it can bring on Writer’s Block. When you have a character with a name you loathe and a story with more crater sized plot holes than the moon it can be tough to turn to write.
- Changing a character’s name mid-drafting can reenergise you and your story. I have done this and it does work.
- Start with the parents. Think about your character’s parents. Why? They name your character, not you. When I realised this….a little bit of my character naming excitement died. I know this is tough, handing over naming responsibility to other fictional folk, but it’s the most realistic approach. So, after profiling fictional Mum and Dad give some thought to what names were popular at the time when your character was born? Think about their nationality, culture, setting and the time period. Play the role of the parent and think about what would influence their choice.
- Nicknames. These are useful as they can reflect how the family and friends of a character perceive them. Useful for characterisation. Plus remember that parents rarely use their children’s proper names; I have so many names for mine.
- Theme. Link your character’s name to the theme running through your book.
- Breathe life into your character’s name! Keep saying it whilst listening to how it sounds. Shout it, scream it and whisper it. This sort of thing brings your character to life. It also helps you to see whether their name is believable.
- Be careful when asking for feedback on character names. It’s a bit like discussing child names – everyone has an opinion and no one will like your preferred name. I would just go on gut instinct.
- Think of other characters in your story. Make sure you don’t get carried away and give two characters a similar name. I have done this and readers do notice it.
Have fun x