Writing Tidbits 3-31-2012

Naming Your Characters

So recently I’ve been getting back in the swing of heavy writing/outlining/character-sketching, and one of the issues that has come up multiple times involves names. Sometimes you don’t realize how hard it is to actually sit down and find that perfect name for your character until you actually do it.

When I first came up with the basic idea of my novel a few years ago, I had everyone’s names ready to go. Now, after a bit of time and distance, I’ve come back to the story with a new way of thinking and an evolved plotline and new characters. New characters that need new names. Sigh…

One of my all-time favorite methods of name-finding is simply checking out a site like http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/, entering my character’s birth year, and seeing what comes up. Oftentimes the results are just what I’m looking for.

But then there are those blasted other times, when for the life of me I can’t think of a single name on the planet that could properly fit this character. And unfortunately, there is no tried-and-true method of naming your characters. It’s sort of a YOYO (You’re-On-Your-Own) thing.

Sites like http://babynames.com/ can be very helpful if you’re looking for names based on something like ethnicity or meaning (though I’d be very careful with naming characters based on meaning, as the name should still be memorable and not too off-the-beaten-path unless there’s a valid reason for it). This website actually has a page linked on the home page just for writers (http://www.babynames.com/character-names.php), with some great advice on it.

Make sure, as you continue your search, to jot down any and all possible names that you come across, even if you’re not sure about them. Gather them together and see if anything sticks out to you. If so, great; if not, keep looking. You’ll find one eventually.


2 thoughts on “Writing Tidbits 3-31-2012

  1. The baby names things is a great idea, I hadn’t thought of that :-D A question: if you went for basic, easy to remember names, would it work? I’m writing quite a dark book, so I don’t want anything exotic, but is there a chance of people getting bored of the names?

  2. I think part of it depends on the genre. Since, as you say, you’re writing a darker book, you could probably get away with less common names. YA novels tend to have names with no more than 3 syllables, since they are usually “easy reading” books; other genres, like sci-fi and and fantasy, are much more flexible.
    I’ve never gotten “bored” with a name (as a reader). If you’re totally in love with a specific name for a character and it fits well, then sure, go for it. But the key is to make sure that it won’t be something readers stumble over or have difficulty pronouncing.

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