Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Naming Characters

I get emails a lot asking me where I come up with the names for my characters. Is there a specific formula or a particular way to do it? Absolutely not! LOL! Most of the time, I come up with my character names in the most peculiar ways. You want to make sure that your characters' names fit their role in the well as fitting the overall theme of the story.

Here are some tips for naming characters:

1. Choose something that mirror's your character's personality. If your character is a science geek (like Celia Nichols in GHOST HUNTRESS), give them a name that fits their interests. My first manuscript was about a naive twenty-something working her first job in the tech industry, traveling to tradeshows, and unfortunately giving away a company trade secret. Her name was Vanessa Virtue. It was perfect for her. Could you imagine Thor with any other name? If he was Irving, it just wouldn't work.

2. The character's name should be pronouncable and easy for the reader to understand. Think of how the name sounds if you say it out loud. Is there a harmony or a ring to it? Avoid names that no one knows how to say. I respect all of the urban fantasy out there these days, but some of the names are just...unrecognizable. Being creative with a name is great, but not if you reader has no clue how to say it in their head.

3. Make sure the character's name fits the time period. You wouldn't want to write a contemporary YA and name the heroine...Ethel. (My grandma was apologies if I offend anyone.) If you're writing steampunk or historical YA, make sure to use names from the time period. I don't think anyone back then would be named Brittney. LOL!

4. Use the names of people you know...friends, family, colleagues. When I first sold my SORORITY 101 series, all of the guys at my sales office wanted to be in the book. So I put them in as random fraternity guys, teachers, and fellow students. I carried this tradition on with my GHOST HUNTRESS books. The character of Rebecca is one of my best friends (see below.) She's not a goth chick at all, so she loves reading her "alter ego." Be careful with this technique as you don't want to make anyone look bad or make the character reflect something you can get sued over. Always get the person's permission to use their name. Funny enough, the name Kendall Moorehead, the heroine of the GHOST HUNTRESS series came from an offensive lineman that played for the University of Alabama when I was in school. I always loved the name and wanted to use it. So I did.


5. Obituaries are a great place to find unique and personality-filled names. Now, before you throw rotten tomatoes at me, a LOT of authors do this. It's a tribute to the person in that their name carries on and, you can read a lot of about who they were in their obituary, and pay tribute to their life.

6. There are numerous online sources you can use for naming characters. If you're writing about someone that was born in a particular year, why not visit the Social Security website that ranks the popular names by year. Or, you can use any "name your baby" website. There are also name generator websites you can use, as well. Use a surname generator for your family's history or ethnicity or country of origin. Be creative and search to find that perfect name you're searching for.

7. Avoid using names in your story that are similar to other characters names. Look at the letters the names are starting with. Are you using a lot of "C" names? (Charles, Cathy, Christina, Callie) Mix it up a little bit. This makes it easier for the reader to keep up, especially when there are a lot of characters.

What are some memorable character names that you've come across in your reading?

Marley = )


Meredith said...

Wow! Thank you! I always have trouble naming characters! Thanks!


TinaFerraro said...

I am forever writing down names in my notebooks--my favorites being slightly unusual but, like you said, pronounceable. In my book, THE ABC'S OF KISSING BOYS, the "mean girl" is called Chrissandra. I have no idea if that's a common name or if the mother of the woman I met made it up, but once I heard it, I knew I was going to use it!

Heather Davis said...

Good points, Marley. Character names can be soooo important. The name is the first clue (or one of them) that you're giving to the reader about who that person is.

Did you see the Pregnant in Heels episode with the baby-name-focus-group? That tells you how seriously some people take it. Also, just watched Freakonomics, where they studied how names affected children, black and white, and their socio-economic mobility. Fascinating!

Hermione Granger has to be one of the best character names ever. There was a learning curve with it as far as pronunciation, but doesn't it just fit? Loved how JK Rowling named her characters in an almost Dickensian way...

Great topic!

1110cg said...

Something I do is look up names that mean a certain thing like for the hero you could give them a name like Christopher or hayley which means hero.

Marley Gibson said...

Hermione Granger could NOT have possible been named anything else. Brilliant! = )

(And word verification here is "grangr" That's weird!)

Suzanne said...

One thing that bugs me about character names: when I don't know how to pronounce them! It throws me off mentally to be reading along and every time the name comes up, my mind stumbles over it, trying to put a sound to the letters. Sometimes exotic names are cool, and sometimes they're just flat out annoying.

stephhale said...

Great post, Marley. Names are SO important. I love using the SS website and I also love using the names of cities.

1110cg said...

what happened to the other comments and posts