Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Naming characters

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." ~William Shakespeare

Picking the right names for characters is one of the things writers agonize over. Names are important. In picking the right names for the populace of a book, you must know your characters. Is a character strong and fearless or petite and frail. It should fit not only who they are, but also their ethnicity and time era


The genre or tone of your story plays a large role in name choosing as well. Sometimes, especially if you want to add humor to your work, you might choose a name that directly conflicts your characters appearance or personality.  Nicknaming your story's thug Pipsqueak is one example. If your writing in a serious tone, however, you don't want to steal credibility from your story by being too silly. You might choose an ordinary name to symbolize the normalcy of a character's life before your story throws them into a whirlwind of adventure.  

Giving a character a new name at some point during the story, or at the end, is one way to drive home growth in the individual. I'm not talking about suddenly switching the name and causing readers to wonder who you're talking about. But if the character passes some important test or reaches some lofty goal, their peers might hold a special renaming ceremony.

Tomorrow's post - Opinions about your writing - how to handle it



24 comments:

  1. Thanks goodness I don;t have that problem, I have often wondered how characters got their names.
    Great post.

    Yvonne.

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    1. I think it's actually a fun part of the process. Some characters are easier to name than others.

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  2. i can't tell you how many times I just want to name a character Ida :) Yesterday I was thinking of a children's story with two girls, and the names Ayda and Eda wouldn't leave me... It makes me think I might be a touch egotistical :) as a toddler I used to call other kids Ida, because for a while I assumed it just meant little kid or something similar. It's one of those things that seems so important, but when I read I rarely remember names of characters.

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    1. lol! Maybe I'll name a character Ida one day. You're right, though. In the long run, names probably really don't make that much of an impact.

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  3. My characters often have more than one name. Usually they have a name they go by, which isn't their real name. I like the idea of giving them a new name later, like a spirit name they earn.

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    1. I like to give my characters nick-names, too.

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  4. A big help for me has been keeping documents of unused possible names. When characters don't come with their own suitable titles, I'll consult the document and see if we have a hit. Usually there's one in there. The document grows easily because you're always running across something in life you could use.

    John at The Bathroom Monologues

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    1. That's a great idea. I think I'll start doing that.

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  5. I like your idea, John. I have some trouble with names, and have been having to rename a lot of characters in a WIP because I realized that far too many of them alliterated. I also renamed one because the original choice was just too outlandish, but now realize that it is the name of a co-worker, and as the character isn't all that nice, I don't want to do that. I may go back to outlandish and offer some explanation in the story.

    I'm also working on a fantasy story, and trying to come up with names that are both completely made up and plausible is hard. My son seems to find it easy--maybe I'll get him to give me a list!

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    1. Oh, those are the hardest kinds of names to come up with, the otherworldly ones that also need to be pronounceable. I once gave a character a foreign name, it was a Middle Eastern name, and some of my readers complained about it because they weren't sure how it would be pronounced. I've had that issue before while reading books, and it is annoying.

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  6. Is it strange that the name comes to me first, then the character?

    Wonderful post!

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  7. I like picking out names and usually can't get too far into the story unless I have a name I really love.

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    1. It does help to have a name. I often use "working names" kind of like "working titles" until the right name hits.

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  8. The title of a book is very important to get the readers attention. Thanks of stopping by my blog, I am following you GFC and Networked Blogs.

    http://www.AMomsPointOfView.com

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    1. True. Naming the book is also important.

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  9. I hadn't thought of renaming a character in a ceremony before - very interesting idea.
    I love coming up with character names! It's lots of fun to research.

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  10. I do enjoy coming up with character names. It really sets the tone of the piece for me...

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    1. I love insights into how other writers work. Thanks for stopping by, Kim!

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  11. I covered naming fictional characters too in the A-Z Challenge with five rules that you probably shouldn't break (including what letter it shouldn't start with) - but didn't cover nicknames. Or the idea of changing name as part of character development....lots of food for thought!

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    1. Thanks, Bridget! I'm going to hop on over and read your name post. :)

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  12. Over time, my characters have remained nameless until the end of the piece. Or they simply become Mr. X or Ms. Y until such time that they are given proper identification.

    Writer In Transit

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    1. I would probably get attached to the letter names if I tried to do that with a story. lol! All my characters would be Mr. P or Ms. W.

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