How much time do you spend choosing your characters’ names? Do you slap on the first name that comes to mind? Do you spend hours poring over name books? What criteria do you use for choosing names?
The right name can make your character; the wrong name can break your character. Everything in your book should be telling a story, helping the readers, conveying something, and names are no exception. They are a key part of unlocking your characters, both for you and for your audience.
Here are some thoughts on choosing names.
First of all, the names should excite you. You are the creator, and you will be the one ultimately spending the most time with them, so make sure you choose names that you like.
What to avoid:
Boring names—don’t settle for Anna Johnson when Beatrice Kettlewell will bring across your character better.
Confusing Names—avoid strange or foreign spellings, or names that all start with the same letter, and your readers will be less likely to forget which character is which, or get jolted out the story by strange names.
Names with wrong connotations—unless you are looking to use irony with your naming, you may not want to name your strong, practical heroine Arabella, or your skinny man Butch.
Things to Consider:
Origin—if your character is a Frenchman among Englishmen, don’t be afraid to use his name to help bring that out.
Meaning—choose a name with a meaning that has some significance to your character, or hints at what he’s like.
Phonetic Connotations—names like Sharpe, Hawker, and Savage bring to mind very different ideas than say, Pillow, Snow, and Gently.
Things I’ve done:
Collect good names—you can find them anywhere: books, film credits, online resources. Whenever I run across a name I like, I make sure I write it down to remember it.
Experiment with names—don’t be afraid to change around the beginnings and endings of names to find the right sound or impression.
Study other authors—look at the way they use names and learn from them.
Don’t be afraid to change a name if it’s not working—no matter how attached you are to the name, it is always better to have the right one.
Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of other people’s opinions. Readers will be able to tell you if the name is distracting, if it gave a certain impression, and so on.
How do you choose your characters’ names? What are your favorite names from books you’ve written or read?