Monday, April 23, 2012

On Names and Such

So, we talk a lot about the big idea in writing - PUBLICATION.

But we don't often talk about the nitty gritty in writing. Exclamation points - to use or to not use? How about the infamous "white space" everyone talks about needing in a novel? Or, like I'm going to talk about today, the seemingly simple idea of character names.

There really is a science behind naming a character. It can be like naming a baby. When we were trying to think of names for our son, I would stand there and say them over and over and over because I knew that once he was born, I was going to be repeating his name 1,476 times a day, so it needed to be a name I could stand that many times. ;)

Beyond the simple liking and disliking though, there are a few tricks of the trade:

* Think through some of the more infamous villains you've either read or seen in movies. How many of them have either very short names or a hard "C" sound in them? For whatever reason, we tend to associate hard consonants with harshness. So, if you're wanting to really invoke distrust in a character right from the start, think through his or her name.

* One thing that a lot of publishers prefer (particularly if you are publishing toward a younger audience), is for your characters to have fairly popular/trendy names (unless, of course, you are writing a futuristic/other worldly/historical novel). One of the best places to find current name trends is the U.S. Social Security website - I find a TON of my character's names on there. You can even search by birth year, which is just pretty much awesome.

* Sometimes, a character BECOMES his or her name. Here are very common names but ones that authors have defined their characters with. Think about what character instantly comes to your mind when you read this:

                      - Elizabeth
                      - Harry
                      - Greg

If you thought of Elizabeth Bennett, Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables and Greg from Diary of A Wimpy Kid, you just proved my point. ;)

 Names are SO important! Get a baby name book, search through the Social Security site, find a phone book, do whatever you can to listen and soak in different names. Then, when you are trying to find the name to fit a certain character, you'll know it almost before you see it.

Happy naming!


  1. Also in names, it's important not to overuse the same letter for different characters. Having a Rosie, a Ryan, a Rita and a friend with a nickname Red can get really confusing :)

  2. Great point Betsy!! :) Or rhyming names, for that matter. ;)