Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Name Game

One thing that every single fiction writer has to do is find names for their characters. This could be as simple as using your own names (I'll admit it: I've written at least two stories using myself as a character.) or it could be an agonizing process where absolutely nothing seems to fit.

Right now, I'm in the latter stage. I spent all afternoon pouring over baby names on websites and a friend was helping me out on twitter, but so far I haven't come up with a name that just clicked. I have a vague idea of the character in my head, and nothing has fit her perfectly. It's either too sophisticated or too boring or old fashioned or too flowery...

Before now, names haven't been hard. The character of Wander, actually, was created to fit her name. I remember searching for Ida's name, and the instant I found it I knew it was right. In 'Because You Laughed' the MC was originally named Maddie; not an ugly name by any means, but fairly nondescript. Her name doesn't actually appear in the manuscript at all, but it'll still always be Maddie to me. :)

My favourite way to find names is to think of a couple words to describe the character. For my new story, a couple would be: Strong, Cheerful and Spider (don't ask!). If you're using an internet database of names (it's easy to find one with Google) then you can often search for meaning. Aside from that, when I think of 'strong' I think of names beginning with 'strong' sounds, like K or T. If I think of cheerful, I might try ones beginning with vowels (I found a lot of 'A' names I like.) And as for Spider, I could chose 'Arachne' which means Spider, or I could go and find a name beginning with S, which could evoke a certain sinister feeling if used correctly...

I think the most important thing about a name is that you, personally, as a writer, have to feel like it is the character. You don't necessarily have to have it on your list of 'Names for my kids whenever I have them'. You don't even really need to like it. For instance, I would never think of naming my kid Phoebe, but for some strange reason I think it just might fit this MC...

That's enough rambling from me. Any thoughts on naming your characters? Do you find it hard to name your MCs? Is it easier to name a minor character? Have you ever given a character a name you loved, and then it turns out people hated it?


  1. Names used to be my favorite part. I'd spend hours going through those websites. haha! And if I found a name I really liked, but it wasn't for the character, I'd save it. Names are awesome!

    Great post! :)

  2. when i try to think of a character's name, i'll look on google for images of people who closely resemble the character's looks i have in mind. either actors or ordinary people. then the name usually follows on that person's appearance mixed with their personality i have in mind for them. it's what seems to work for me.

  3. Ugg. I'm trying to think of a name right now. I need two for the story, the first was easy: Elijah Switzerland. The other...not going as well.

  4. Josiphine: Elijah Switzerland... I really like that!

    Kat: I should try something like that. My MC this time is actually based on one of my friends (at least, her appearance is) but I wanted a name that wasn't really similar. For my other characters, I'll try google images.

    Evie: I absolutely love names, but I prefer it when the character comes from the name, rather than the other way around. This MC was already too much in my mind, so it was hard to find something that fit.

    And BTW, I settled on Astrid. I'm not sure if I 100% like it, but that's how it'll be at least for my outline.

  5. Haha, I'm the opposite, I hate naming. My friends always know when I'm about to start a new book because I'll text them and say "Give me a list of boy names." Then they'll rattle off a bunch and if I like one, I'll use it, but if not, I tell them to give me another one.
    I'm a very picky namer.

  6. I love naming characters! I think that you have to think of the characters' qualities, first, and then try to pick up a name that possibly matches it. Or I'll just throw one out. My current story has horses in them, so I had to name horses as well as my characters! The main "horse" though has a name in Hawaiian that means something to the character. So that's how I got that. The horse's name is Halia, and, in Hawaiian, means, "In remembrance of".

  7. I always make sure the name fits my character, even if it's something I don't really like. I'll scan the baby name websites until one sparks :)
    In the past, I've tried forcing names onto my characters, but it never works. Sometimes your characters will tell you their name themselves (I know that sounds weird, but that's how it works for me, haha).