Monday, June 14, 2010

What's in a Name?

As a reader...

... I like a character's name to either be "fitting" (it suits the character somehow) or deliberately ill-fitting (for example, an ugly person named Beauty). 

... I don't like characters with similar names (for example, Henry and Harry). 

... I'm also getting pretty tired of female main characters being given traditionally male names. I guess this is supposed to suggest that they are in touch with their masculine side? Or maybe it's supposed to attract male readers?

Fellow Readers: 
Do the names of the characters in books matter to you?
Do you have any pet peeves about the way authors name characters? 
Should a character's name somehow reflect or relate to his or her personality or purpose in the book?

As a writer...

... I use a lot of different sources for names, and I do try to choose "suitable" names. 

... I also try to avoid using the same initial letter for more than two characters' names, especially if they are prominent characters.

Fellow Writers:
How do you name your characters? 
What tips, tricks, or techniques have you learned about naming characters?
What sources do you use?


  1. I think names have to be believable but at the same time not too difficult to remember. Really strange names, say in fantasy fiction, can be difficult if the reader can't remember who the character is or distinguish one name from another. So names need to be different but not difficult to remember.

    I like it when I read, and the name of the character reflects their personality.

    Sometimes unusual names just pop into my head, but I may also take note a road name, etc to use as a resource. I f I see an unusual name or a nice name I'll jot it down just in case it's of use to me at some future date.

  2. Great thoughts, Helen! I agree that difficult names (hard to pronounce, hard to remember) should probably be avoided if we want people to enjoy reading our books.

    I also like your idea of jotting down interesting or unusual names you happen to see in passing.

  3. I just spent time today naming my characters from my latest fantasy WIP. I wrote the first draft with names I didn't intend to keep. They were more like place holders until I knew them better.

    Half of my cast is Asian so they needed to have corresponding names. I spent some time today on the web at baby naming sites looking up Asian names. My other characters are Anglo-Saxon names, so I just tried to choose names based on character. Not necessarily meanings, but the sound of the name. Strong beginning sounds for strong males, etc.

    We also just got back from vacation and I kept a file on my iPhone with place names that I thought might come in handy - and they have.

    In some ways, I think naming is one of the most difficult parts of writing. Madeleine L'Engle's works taught me early on that naming is the most integral part of who we are. I take it very seriously with my characters (and with my children, but that's a discussion for another post).

  4. I hear you, Michelle! I spent a lot of time naming the characters in my current YA fantasy WIP because I wanted the names to clearly represent a variety of cultures. Those baby name sites are a godsend! Before the internet, I had acquired several baby name books for the same purpose. Another book I've used is What's in a Name: Surnames of America. I actually got my main character's first name from that book.

  5. Ha! Well, I'm a synesthete, so there's a whole other layer of "rightness" I have to consider when choosing names, but I usually have to fiddle with them quite a while before settling on something. For my historical, CHILDREN OF LIGHT, I had to search medieval name registries for different countries of origin. Because I am a nerd, I found this task enjoyable. :)

  6. Caron, LOL, I would enjoy that, too!


So, what do you say?