Friday, August 10, 2012

What's In A Name?

I can't be the only author who takes the art of character naming seriously.

I mean, how often have people read a book and been thrown off by the name of one of the major characters? The weakly named hero, or the heroine you're supposed to love, but who unfortunately has the same name as the kid who bullied you in high school . . . Or maybe the gender ambiguous name that's more confusing than intriguing. Personally, I have trouble if one of the main characters shares my first name -- I see/hear it enough as it is, thank-you-very-much. :)  

Not every possible factor can be considered in the naming game, but there are a few practical considerations I try to start with:

*Ease of recognition/pronunciation.
*Appropriateness to region/genre/culture/time-period.
*Not already taken by someone who is either a) Famous. Or b) Prone to lawsuits.
*Doesn't begin with the same sound as other character's names.
*Doesn't rhyme with the surname, or other character's names.
*Sounds like a legitimate name when shouted. (Also helpful with naming children.)
*Fitting to the character's personality.

And then there are the slightly more subjective considerations . . .

-Hero names should, in theory, inspire strength and confidence. (In romances, this often shows up in the blatant 'alpha male' designations that conjure the image of a) Weaponry. b) Predatorial/Mythical animals. c) Royalty/Nobility. d) All of the aforementioned.

"Allow me to introduce Sir Griffin McDirk . . ."  >.> (Okay, -slight- exaggeration.)

-Villain names are most memorable when they inspire fear . . . or at least, intimidation. Consider the feel and cadence of some of the more famous literary bad guys: Moriarty, Hannibal, Hyde, Ratchet, Sauron . . . 

Not-so recommended villain names: Whitney, Lloyd, Edgar, Gordy, Francis, Milton . . .

-And while I do advocate carefully chosen character names, there is such a thing as trying TOO hard. (i.e. Unless you're going for humor, please refrain from gifting your sultry villainess with a name like: Trixie Vixentrot.) 

I began collecting and researching possible names for my theoretical children a good decade prior to their conception. So, I suppose it only makes sense that I would put a similar amount of care into naming the invisible 'people' who may one day be as much of a legacy as my own flesh and blood. For me, the traditional wisdom of owning a baby name book gave way to the practicality of relying on online sites like and .

Thanks to my fascination with name meanings and origins, I stumbled upon a printing press that specializes in this type of research. Not only is it a great place to find personalized gifts for anyone with a more exotic or obscure name, but the owner was so kind as to hunt down information on a character name I was kicking around at the time:

In the final analysis, it seems to be all about sound and sentiment. A name has to roll off my tongue, and its implications need to 'fit' the character (either in actual meaning, or at least in my mind.). I've been known to use names of people I know, or have known, while writing my first draft. I'm not above harnessing the power of mental association if I feel the thought of them summons the right emotional response, or aids in getting me into that character's head. Of course, just as with borrowing physical descriptions from real-life people, this method is a bit of a no-no when publication time comes around.

But hey, that's what the 'find and replace' tool is for. ^_^

Now, I'd like to see a few other people weigh in . . .
How do you go about naming your characters? :)