Choosing names for book characters is every writer’s burden to bear. Although seemingly fun and easy to do, choosing the perfect name is actually stressful and nerve-racking. It’s never a good idea to choose any name that comes to mind. As a writer, it is important to understand how even a name could change the way your readers perceive your character. In fact, learning how to name your book characters the right way can actually open doors for more stories to be told.
What’s In A Name?
A lot of writers overlook the power of a book character’s name. When used wisely, it can be a device to showcase your character’s historical background and personality. It can even be used to develop your character throughout the whole novel. Sometimes you don’t have to write about every single information about your character like some sort of bio-data.
If your character has a name with an Asian origin, it is most likely because they are Asian or their parents who named them have Asian roots. Oftentimes, unique and intriguing names can speak for their characters better than a paragraph of description. Don’t believe me? Let’s play a little game and find out how names can affect a reader’s impression of a book character…
The Name Game
Here’s a little exercise for you to practice your name-picking skills. Spend some time at a cafe or at a park and observe the people around you. Without asking, try and guess what the names of the people who pass you by are. What made you think that they would have such a name? Was it the way they wore their clothes? Is it their facial expression or maybe even their race? You’ll soon realize that certain names have a certain impression attached to it.
Take your own name for example. If you could change your own name to any other name you wish, what would it be? Why did you choose the name and what difference would it have compared to your current name?
Tips On How To Name Your Book Characters
Apart from giving your characters a unique personality and a story to tell, a name can also help in the world-building process as well. Creating a whole new environment is not easy, especially when done solely in words. This is why tiny details like the names of people, places and things really support in creating an image of the world you’ve created in your story. If you’re looking to learn how to name your book characters to create more depth to your character’s story, continue reading. Below are some tips on how to name your book characters to help you efficiently use them as a device for storytelling.
Pretend To Be A Parent
When naming your characters, don’t forget to think about their parents as well. Their backgrounds and characteristics will greatly affect the number of choices you will have. If the parents of your characters have the tendency to choose out-of-date and modest names, it is less likely that they will pick names such as Kolton, Maddox, Zeke, or Zephyr. However, it is probable that they would choose more classic names such as Chester, Marjorie, Sarah or Walter.
Place yourself in the shoes of your character’s parents. What era and what kind of household did you grow up in? What are your likes and dislikes? Sometimes, thinking from the perspective of a supporting role can make your story a little bit more authentic rather than making decisions as an author.
Check Your Story’s Setting
Your story’s setting refers to both the time and location where your novel takes place in. Make sure that the names you choose are suitable for the period and environment you choose for your story. If your character did not have parents to decide their names for them, they will still likely have a name that is compatible with the time period and location of the story.
It is essential to pair names with the story’s setting simply because it makes more sense. Don’t throw your readers off just because your characters did not match the overall theme of the story. Could you imagine Romeo and Juliet giving themselves nicknames like Romi and Julie – a very extreme example but you get the gist, right?
Determine Your Character’s Origins
In your novel, your character may be living in a place that isn’t their hometown. Or perhaps you are writing a time travel story – your character’s name could definitely show the stark difference between the 2 worlds. Their name can be used as a device to talk about the origins of your character. After all, their roots will always be a part of them, no matter where they go.
Try to be creative with this. Using a name as a device to describe a certain place of origin creates another opportunity for more world-building. It’s great a tool to use especially when used to compare the current environment of your character with their past. Consider their local cultures and see if you could briefly describe it through a name.
A good example of this would be the character names of Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. The novel’s main character is named Offred. but her real name is actually June. In this case, the character’s name is not linked to her place of birth but rather an important and life-changing event. If you read or at least watch the TV series, you’ll know that most of the main cast have names that start with “Of”. To learn the reason behind it, click on this link.
Describe Character Features and Personality
A Christmas Carol’s Ebenezer Scrooge is a perfect example of using names to describe a character’s personality. Bearing the name Scrooge automatically leaves an impression of someone who is stingy. Unsurprisingly, Ebenezer Scrooge is exactly that. In the story, he is portrayed as a greedy and selfish man and he is clearly living up to his name.
Of course, you don’t have to choose words straight out of a dictionary to use this naming device. Take Harry Potter’s famed rival, Draco Malfoy, for example. According to various sources, Draco’s name is said to come from the word “draconian” while his last name, Malfoy, was derived from the French word “mal foi” which means “bad faith”. And if you’re familiar with the Potter universe, you know that these words are very suitable to Draco’s character.
Align With Your Book Genre
Another thing to pay attention to is your book genre. This is especially true if you are writing a fantasy novel. As a writer, you must be careful in choosing names that will fit the genre of your book. The names you hear every day might not be appropriate for a high fantasy novel and vice versa. Depending on the genre of your book, there should be some level of research put into finding book character names.
In order to do this, you may need to find the origin of the names you choose as well as the meanings behind them. Finding a fancy and out-of-this-world name may seem to be a good choice but without knowing the origin of the name, your novel might be at a risk of being unauthentic.
Things NOT To Do When Choosing Character Names
Now that we’ve discussed how to use names as a device for storytelling, let’s talk about the things you should not do when choosing character names. Oftentimes, it’s great to take risks and to break the rules but in general, you might want to keep these pointers in mind to help you create a well-polished story.
Similar Sounding Names
The Handmaid’s Tale is an exception to this rule. Having similar sounding names without a good purpose like The Handmaid’s Tale will just leave your readers confused – especially if they are very common and widely used. It’s difficult to make characters like Sally, Susan, and Suzy stand out from one another and it might take a lot of effort to pull it off. If you’re just choosing these names for fun, perhaps it is a better idea to pick other options.
Names That Nobody Knows How To Read
Another name-picking taboo is unreadable names. Sure, the name Xyrius might be a fun alternative to Sirius but not everyone will know how to read it. Although seeing rare letters like Z’s, X’s and Q’s might make a name more fun and unique, it extra attention to detail and a bit of wit to make it work. Your character names need to be easily read in order for your readers to enjoy your novel and actually remember the characters. You wouldn’t want your readers to refer to a certain character as “the one with a name I don’t understand”, right?
So there you have it – a simple guide on how to name your book characters. Remember that this process doesn’t have to be stressful. With these tips and pointers, I hope you find name-choosing a little bit more enjoyable. Now it’s your turn – what is the name of your novel’s main character? How did you come up with their name and why did you choose it? Share your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love to hear your thoughts!