Naming Your Characters

No Name

Photo by Larry Page

When I was pregnant, deciding on a name for my son was a highly researched project. I studied name books and the social security lists, said the names out loud, tried to think like a third grader to make sure the name couldn't be turned into something for merciless teasing. I drove my husband crazy.

Now, I don't know if you need to put quite as much time in as I did for my son into your characters' names, but you also should not take it lightly. Names define us and conjure up an instant image.

The name Candy is going to produce a much different image than Francis. A Caleb is very different from a Murray. When people hear my first name, they probably aren't going to picture some elegant debutante, they're going to picture a spunky tomboy (which, in my case, worked because I indeed was a tomboy.) You want your character's moniker to ring true with your reader and produce the desired image.

Some things to consider. These are NOT rules. 


1. Make the name true to the person's age

--You're not going to have a sixty-year old Jayden

--Also, don't show your own age if you're writing YA by naming teen characters Cathy and Deborah and Barbara.

--Go to the Social Security website which will give you the top baby names for each birth year. If your character is 16, go back to that year she would have been born to see what names were popular.

2. Check if the name rolls off your tongue because the reader will be saying it in their head.

--Don't use names that are impossible to pronounce (Fantasy writers maybe can get away with this. But try a spelling that readers will at least be able to sound out. Otherwise, we'll just reassign the name in our head.)

--It's also advised not to use first names that end with S because it causes hissing when reading the possessive form. (I've done this many times, so *shrug*, I choose to ignore this suggestion.)

3. Avoid naming multiple characters with names that start with the same letter or sound similar because the reader could get confused.

--Billy and Bobby, Jack and Zach

4. Let the name fit the gender. That doesn't mean you can't give girls names that are traditionally male though. (Says girl who is named Roni.)

--Names with hard consonant sounds create a more masculine feel (Jake, Tate, Todd, Kirk) whereas softer sounds are more feminine (Lacey, Alanna, Jennifer). Once again, this isn't a rule, just food for thought. I have a Jace, which has a soft sound and he's a tough guy.

--One syllable names scream alpha male. (I don't pay attention to this at all. Jace, Grant, Reid, Pike, Kade, Keats. *cough*)

5. Be careful of alliteration

--It can make the name sound silly and contrived. Jenny Johns, Bobby Buckwell

--However, I think this can also work well My hero in Wanderlust is Lex Logan, which I think works for a sexy rockstar.

--And Charlaine Harris has definitely made Sookie Stackhouse work

6. Make it fit the region of the character.

--Where are they from? How would that affect their name?

7. Avoid names that conjure up images of other well-known characters (especially in your genre).

--Don't think you're going to get away with naming a character a Bella in YA paranormal for a while.

--This isn't just for books, TV shows count too.

8. Beware the extremely odd name.

--These can annoy people. I personally don't mind a unique name as long as it's not too distracting. But if you're hero is named Satan or something, that might throw people off, lol.

9. Don't fall into stereotypes, but also have the name fit the person's personality and occupation. (Or on the flip side, you can play with it and give a really tough character a dainty name she hates.)

--True Blood is a good example: the name Sookie Stackhouse is fun and perky like the character, Bill Compton is the boy-next door vamp so has an accessible, softer sounding name, Eric Northman is the bad boy and his name sounds more mysterious and tough (to me at least)

10. Don't be afraid to change your character's names if you get halfway through the book and it's not working. That Find/Replace feature is your friend.

--However, try to get it right the first time because even if you tell yourself it's a placeholder name until you come up with the real one, you'll inevitably start thinking of the character as that name and it will be hard to change.

So what are your MC's names? How'd you come up with them? Have you ever read a book that the name was too odd or it didn't fit the character to the point of distraction?