Lessons from a writer: What’s in a name?
When you start your novel, you need names for your characters. It’s hard to write without them. But, sometimes it’s hard to find that perfect name, isn’t it? Well, I know it is for many writers, and it definitely can be difficult for me.
This Tuesday, we have another panel and another question! You’ll recognize a few but we have a few new ones as well!
How do you come up with names for your characters, and how important is the process to you?
Character names are pretty important to me. Whenever possible, I like to pick symbolic names like the ones in my book, The Breeding Tree. They also have to fit together. I originally wanted Kate to be Kiera, but I didn’t like the “ah” sound when my main guy was Micah. I’ve also been told to make sure the names sound different and even start with different letters so the reader doesn’t get confused. If you have a Kate, a Kelly, and a Kyle, it gets annoying.
I also tend to pick names that start with “J” a lot. That’s my own vice, and I’m trying to break it. Luckily, I have a friend who is great with picking names. She lives to help me out. – Jessie Bailey Andersen
How I come up with names tends to fluctuate from story to story. In short stories and flash fiction, I usually pull a name I really like or one that sounds like it fits in the time period/race/species/genre (yes, species, because I write fantasy). But in novels, I tend to be much more selective in my naming. Main characters get the most attention. First, I look at the overall theme and tone of the story. I pull up Google Translate (accuracy in translation is irrelevant) and type in a word or phrase that has meaning to the storyline. I’d then click around to see it in different languages, and piece together syllables and letter combinations I find appealing that form a name suitable for their theme. I also take into account any letters I hold preference for (I love the letter y). Sometimes, I even go straight to Google and type “Names that mean X” and play around with the results. This can take me quite a while—as long as a few hours for just the right name.
It seems like a long process and a lot of work, and I suppose it is. But each story I tell is a baby I’ve brought into the world. It has to be just right. Besides, I love the idea of having a casual conversation about my book and being able to toss out some fun facts. “Did you know my main character’s name, Lucia, actually means ‘Light’?” So there’s that. – Crystal M M Burton
Sometimes, the characters’ names come to me through their personality or where they are from. For instance, you wouldn’t name a Scottish lass Sophia, just as you wouldn’t have an Italian hero named Duncan. – Kim McCormack Harrison
Sometimes if it’s a main character and if they have some kind of significant role, whether it’s in the current WIP or later on in the series, I will try to find a word in another language that corresponds with a certain attribute or role and use that. Otherwise, I just think of a random first and last name or look online for good names. – Matthew T Fields
I have no method for character names, but I do attempt to have their names fit the time period I am writing in. Names are not important to me. Plot and substance are. – Cecelia Marriott Chittenden
Oh wow . . . Okay, well, the fictional names—I tend to focus on the character’s persona in my mind and then find a name with meaning on an Internet search however for my real characters. That’s simple. I check to make sure they don’t mind they’re real name being used and then go for it. Names are really important because that name has to live up to your character description. – Martin Sigournay
I think really hard about what I want the name to convey about the character and the atmosphere of the story. Sometimes, my characters’ names have no meaning at all if I want the focal point on the story itself. There have been times I’ve used a name generator and times that I’ve used symbolism to express more about the character. – Tyronica Smith
Want to know more about this week’s panel?
I am a stay-at-home mother and wife who spends my free time baking, crafting, and fangirling. I work from home as an author and freelance editor, and I insist my positive outlook has gotten me to where I am today.
Matthew T. Fields
I’m from Brooklyn, NY. I currently live in Danville, Ohio with my wife and daughter and a baby on the way. I self-publish. I have three books out already, and I’m working on my biggest project yet.
I love writing across genres. I’ve recently found a fondness for nonfiction, and the best thing next to an awesome cup of coffee is an even more awesome book! Creators create, readers read, and writers suffer long silences from tight-lipped characters 😛
Cecelia Marriott Chittenden
I have been writing for many years but within the last two, made an attempt to publish any of my work. I self-published my first novel, Book One of a trilogy titled Pelicans Haven, in June of this year. I am currently working on Book Two and Three and a historical nonfiction novel.
Kim McCormack Harrison
Hi, ya’ll. I am unpublished as of yet, and this is the first writers group I’ve been in online. I’m truly enjoying it and learning so much. I am working on turning bedtime stories that I used to tell my children into books. But my true love is romances.
Martin Sigournay has been writing for about twenty-three years but only started publishing e-books back in 2014. He mainly writes fiction but has published one litany of poetry. His current published story is Wolfsbane The Mark, which has elements of fact and fiction intertwined within the story.
J. Andersen is the author of The Breeding Tree, a YA dystopian through Brimstone Fiction, an Imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, and At What Cost, through Clean Reads publishers. She likes to write books, but doing so means slaying the dragons of procrastination while trudging through piles of laundry to make it to the computer. This stay-at-home mom may be a superhero by day and a world builder by night, but that doesn’t mean she can ignore making dinner.