Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Character Naming


We are getting two new puppies. Yes, two, not one, but two new puppies. Are we out of our minds? Possibly, but we're looking forward to them. The problem that now hangs over our heads is what to name the little cuties. One is a black male, the other is a brown female. We've had lots of suggestions from a lot of different people. Because there are two, people are thinking in pairs, like Chip and Dale, Fred and Ginger, Bonnie and Clyde, Bert and Ernie. My daughter feels we can't go with color names because they're "lame." (She's voting for Natasha and Boris.) There have been several color related names such as Cocoa and Licorice, Chocolate and Chip, Carbon and Hershey.

Just as important as naming our new puppies is the challenge writers have to name their characters. Names can make or break your character.

Make sure your characters names begin with different letters. You don't want both your females to have names that are similar like Jane and Janine. You wouldn't want your hero to be named David and the villain Damian. The names also shouldn't sound alike or rhyme such as Mary and Jerry or Tami and Manny. Your reader will become confused and give up.

If you're writing a fantasy, you can create names that fit with the story. Be sure to have them be names that your reader can pronounce, even if it's a made up name. I have a dictionary of names from different time periods and countries which is helpful. This dictionary also gives a description of the name such as "Abel (Hebrew) one who is father." Webster's New Encyclopedia of Dictionaries, 1990, p 733

There are also several web sites devoted to names. Check out http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/ or http://www.abc-baby-names.com/popular.html and also http://www.babynamewizard.com/voyager While you may not be specifically looking for baby names, you will be able to see what names were popular during different years. This can help you if you're writing a period novel, or you'll see what names your adult characters would most likely have based on when they were born.

Start a namebook. If you come across a name you like, jot it down. You may read a name in the paper, hear it on t.v., or in a movie. Maybe you like the name of your favorite recording artist. Collect names from the phone book or a graduation program. Then when you're writing, look at your name list, find out what a name means and see if it fits your character.

Finding just the right name is important. Sometimes you end up changing your character's name because you find the name you originally chose just doesn't fit. Be flexible and let your character let you know if he or she likes the name.

(By the way, if you have any good puppy names, let us know.)

3 comments:

  1. Penny, you hit a lot of nails on the head with this post. So many new writers choose character's names that do not fit the genre, the time frame, or the characters themselves. I guess parents do the same thing.

    Look at what some pop stars and film stars call their poor kids. These children should be able to sue for phycolpgical damages when they turn eighteen!!

    Margot Finke
    "Rattlesnake Jam" + more!
    Manuscript Critiques
    www.margotfinke.com

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  2. Penny, you hit several nails on the head with this article about the importance of naming characters. Many new to writing choose names that do not fit their characters well at all.

    Of course parents do this all the time. And just look at what some pop stars and film stars name their kids. Those children should be allowed to sue for psychological damages the minute they turn eighteen!

    Margot Finke
    "Rattlesnake Jam" + more!
    Manuscript Critiques
    www.margotfinke.com

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  3. Thanks Margot. I have to agree, some parents really make life difficult for their children. I still remember that Johnny Cash hit, "A Boy Named Sue."

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