Choosing Character Names: The Right Way

Choosing Character Names

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. LIES!!! When it comes to choosing character names, there is a right way and a wrong way.

One of the absolute great things about being a writer is the ability to literally do anything you want. Create any world, speak any language, kill any body (legally) and get away with it. With such awesome power, comes some crappy responsibility. Yes, even we, have boring rules we should abide by; for me, nothing, nothing, is as important as the name your characters should have.

I’ll admit, for me, this one has never been a problem. I know, I know. You may bow to me later. LOL. For some unbeknownst reason, names have always just flowed out of me to the point where, I barely even stop to consider this. I have noticed, however, that many of my fellow writers do struggle with this so, here are a few ideas and processes I use to narrow down appropriate names.

 

WHY IT MATTERS

 

Many inevitably will ask, “who cares?” Well, my friend, you should. A lot. The name of your character is a tool that is used to immediately connect your reader to them. Whether we realize it or not, the fact is, we judge. Its the human thing to do. We judge. Think about your life; if you met an Ashley Smith, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Probably, a normal, everyday girl, right? On the other hand, supposed you met a Victoria Ravenclaw. What’s the first thing that comes to your mind? A prestigious family, a posh lifestyle or perhaps a member of a coven?

 

Your character’s name is a gateway to their personality, their lifestyle and overall what makes them…well…them. Harry Potter, is a common name, for a common boy who is just as common as us. We are able to instantly connect with him and root for him because we believe everything he went through, we could too.

 

Names  also help us immerse into the story. Think about this. How many stories have you read that just didn’t feel believable because each character just seemed out of place. For me, if I’m reading a story about medieval Japan, I do not want to see the name of the character being Sarah. I just don’t. It pulls me out of the story and suspends my suspension of belief (if that makes sense).

 

HOW TO NAME YOUR CHARACTER

Babylonian Castle

ERA

Consider what era does your character live in? This is important. Ashley, Ariel, Tyson, Madison, Gage etc. these names may be common today, but how common were they in Ancient Egypt? Medieval Scotland? Pre-historic Ice Age cave dwellers? Not very. Research common names in your era. A common name in Boston circa 1667 is a far cry from what it might be now circa 2017. Jedidiah vs. Jeremey. Totally different.

 

Pro Tip:

If I want to use an uncommon name for my era, I try spelling the name in a way consistent with the era itself. (SAY WHA?!)

For example, lets take the name, Sarah. Simple enough name; used through various stages of history. But lets say, I’m writing a novel set in the Ottoman Empire. Back then, I probably wouldn’t spell it S-A-R-A-H. But, S-A-R-A-I may be more appropriate. S-A-R-I-A-H sounds even better. Same thing as whether I would be writing for Ancient Egypt, S-A-R-A-H could become SA -RAH-TEP. See, its the same basic name, I only morphed it to fit the era I’m trying to represent.

 

LOCATION

 

Hand in hand with Era comes location. Just because Sarah was a popular name circa almost forever in Western and Middle eastern cultures, in eastern cultures, not so much. I previously gave the example of Sarah in feudal Japan. Its highly unlikely. Consider the geographic location, and how customs and cultures would shape the spelling and meaning of a person’s name.

 

Pro Tip:

If you are absolutely dead set on using a particular name that doesn’t fit with your location, try using the regional equivalent or something close. Sarah could be “Seresute” (pronounced SER-ES-OO-TAY) in Japan. Its the same basic sound as the original but conformed to your setting.

 

For example, in some cultures, a person’s name is a reflection of who they should become. A name such as Charity, for example is an example of what the parents hope their child should be. A person from an island or the high mountains, for example, may not have the same names as a mainlander or lowlander. The character’s name my be a reflection of where they come from. In the Lord of the Rings universe; Middle Earth, Frodo, Sam, Mery and Pippin’s were from the Shire and his name sounded nothing like the elfish names.

 

SOCIAL CASTE

Noble Woman

Common names are for commoners while aristocratic names are for those of nobility. Consider your character’s social standing and that of their family. John Livingston differs greatly for Reginald Walter Xvayneous Waldor Prescott III. Angela Smith is different from Alistair Rein. A great example of this is Mia Thermopolis in the Princess Diaries movies. When she was an ordinary girl, she was Mia. When she became the Heir of Genovia, she then became Amelia Mionette Thermopolis Grenaldi, Princess of Genovia (then later its Queen).

 

Pro Tip:

 

Honestly, I look to movies for this. Whenever I’m writing aristocrats, my first instinct is to click through a few period pieces on Netflix and voila! I often come across some movies and names I can use for inspiration. I look for unusual spellings and name order. It helps a lot when I’m stuck.

 

PERSONALITY

 

How about developing your character before you even consider a name? Who says you have to name them before you even know them. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to change character’s names because it no longer fit them. There is nothing wrong with having Character A and Character B etc. until you can finalize a name for them. I’ve done it. Why couldn’t you?

 

Until Next time G-NATION; WRITE ON!

 

 

WORD!

 

 

 

 

 

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