N is for Names


Happy Monday, everyone!  This post is part of the A-Z challenge. Please take time to visit the other blogs that are participating.

Names.  Everyone has one.  Novelists sometimes have many.  In fact, being a novelist is one of the only professions where it’s perfectly okay to have multiple personalities, voices and imaginary  playmates (including creatures, shapeshifters, vampires, and werewolves, among others) running around in our heads constantly.  And of course, each one of those characters has a name, but what are they, and how do novelists come up with those names you love?

I can’t speak for anyone else, but some names just come to me when I write, like David, Charlotte, Trogsdill (“Trog”), Einar, and Eric from my novel, In the Shadow of the Dragon King.  I liked the ring that each name had and didn’t really realize what the significance of their first names were until I started doing some research into a last name for Trog.  I was really amazed at how their names spoke volumes of their characterizations:

David Alwyn Heiland:  beloved/noble friend/savior

Charlotte Breanna Stine:  free man/noble/anointed

Trogsdill Domnall:     to walk heavily/mighty; great chief

Eric Finian Hamden:  forever, ruler/handsome/praised

Einar:  warrior; battle leader

Aside from having random names pop into my head, how else do I come up with character names?  I look at several things.

Era:  current, trendy names may not work very well in the era your story takes place.  “Electra” probably wouldn’t work in a story set in the early 1700s.

Place:  Where does your story take place?  “Bobby Jean” may stand out like a sore thumb in wealthy societies.

Reserved or Contemporary?:  Is your character conservative?  Maybe a name like “Arthur” would be more appropriate than a more contemporary counterpart like “Sonny”.

I’ve also learned to try and avoid famous names, and not make the pronunciations too difficult.  Readers can’t relate to names they can’t pronounce.  And, unless you’re writing a comedy or trying to make a specific point, try to avoid same sounding names, like Harry Larry or Kendell Wyndel.

Where else do I look to find cool, interesting names?  The phone book, the Bible, baby books.  There are tons of “name” sites on the internet.  I also pay attention to those movie credits.  You’d be surprised by the gems you find there.

I found that keeping a running list of names at all times helps a lot.  Whenever I hear a cool name or come up with one, I jot it down so I don’t forget it.  

Whatever I do, I try to make my character’s name identifiable and memorable.  I’ve been told it helps to make a story stand out from the others.  I hope I’ve succeeded.

What are some of your favorite character names?

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15 thoughts on “N is for Names

  1. I’m always nervous naming a character the same as someone I know in case they think I based them on them 😉 I’m the same – I like names you can pronounce and that fit the setting and their personality. It’s quite fun naming them!

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  2. I love names that mean something that relates to the character’s journey. That’s how I name my characters, mainly because I have a fascination with where names come from and what they mean in various languages.

    In terms of fiction, I’ve always loved names that didn’t try to be different. I hate weird spellings or writers trying too hard to make their character stand out with an odd name. The personality of the character should do that, not the name!

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  3. My characters names generally come to me. Sometimes I write some scenes before I come up with a name – the character kind of names itself.

    I agree that names should be easier to pronounce. I hate reading a book with names that are difficult to pronounce – it interrupts the flow of the story when I have to sit and try to figure out how to say a characters name.

    Michelle 🙂
    A to Z challenger
    http://www.michelle-pickett.com/blog

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  4. I tend to use name origin/meaning a lot when making my decision.
    Francesca Lia Block makes up some of my all time favorite character name. Cherokee Bat, etc. Happy A to Z-ing!

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  5. Wha’ happened? I left a brilliant comment only to have it disappear. Okay, I’m so admiring of the really evocative names in stories. From what I see, you m’dear have a talent for that. Love the Trog, only from what you say about him, this would not work.

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    1. ah, but it does. He’s big and muscular, pushing 7 feet tall. He’s lethal and is referred to by David on one occasion as a neanderthal. The shortened name does suit him. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you visit again.

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  6. I keep an ongoing list of names I find that strike my fancy. Your names really have the right ring to them, I especially like Trogsdill Domnall. Trog for short? Nah, doesn’t suit him. Thanks for the visit Jenny.

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  7. This–>>> “Readers can’t relate to names they can’t pronounce.” Cannot be repeated enough for fantasy writers, especially. Honestly, that’s one of the biggest reasons why I put down a novel. That and too many characters with similar sounding names. Try to avoid creating cultures where the father is Enar, his best friend is Llavan and their daughters are Enara and Llavana, respectively. It’s just too confusing.

    I follow many of the rules you listed especially steering clear of the most popular names of the day. I like old-fashioned names for my characters, to be honest. I had a critiquer tell me I should rename Gayle from my novel (who has a twin named Gordon), Meghan and rename her brother Matt. Um no. That’s my other pet peeve–readers telling writers what to rename their characters.

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  8. I, too, write down names I find interesting and have used a few of them in the past. It’s amazing how many sources there are for finding character names. You’ve already mentioned a few. I recently used a website for Scottish names because I’m writing a book about local history and the Scots were one of our earliest settlers. It had the meanings for the names, too, which I paid close attention to so that the names would fit my characters. It sounds like you do the same thing or did you find out the meanings of your character names after you decided to use them? Whichever way you did it, the names definitely seem to suit the characters. 🙂

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    1. yes, I came up with the first names on my own. I thought I was brilliant thinking up Einar but then I find out it’s a Celtic name. That’s cool, though. I love the name, and it fits my nasty, evil dragon. Middle names and last names were researched completely before using.

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  9. Ooo! Character names! I have several favorites but here are a few just off the cuff, Scout Finch, Ponyboy and Sodapop Curtis and Katniss Everdeen! 😀

    I have a list of names I like saved, some from names I’ve heard and others from Scrivener’s random name generator. For me, naming a character (along with coming up with a story title) are some of the things I take the most time with. 🙂

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