Choosing Names

“Must a name mean something?” Alice asked doubtfully.

“Of course it must,” Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh; “my name means the shape I am – and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.” ― Lewis Carroll

Choosing the right name for your hero/heroine/villain can be challenging, but fun. There’s no right or wrong way to choose a name, but remember that names have meanings, origins, and POWER!

Here’s a few things to think about when choosing a name:

1. Does the name fit the character’s personality? You wouldn’t name your loving, sweet Granny, Voldemort…But it’s sure makes a great name for a bad guy.

2. Is the name era/country/age appropriate? Does it fit the era? Is the name used in the country that your character is from? Does it fit the age of your character? Using an Irish name for an Irish character adds flavor…naming an Asian character Paddy O’Reilly would be confusing…Unless you had a distinct purpose for doing this…

3. Is the name of your hero/heroine memorable? It doesn’t even have to be unique for it to stick with people. Harry Potter is such a simple sounding name, but it’s stuck because it fits his character. Another thing, if you are going to create a new spelling for an old name, make sure you stay consistent in your spelling of the name. A great way to remember spellings of first names, middle names, last names, is to keep them all on index cards. Keep them within reach for those times when you have a mental pause, and can’t remember how you spelled Shayne/Shane.

4. Choose names that won’t annoy your readers. I tend to skip over names that I can’t pronounce…(I admit I skipped over Hermione Granger for the longest time…) Recently, I’ve been going on Youtube and seeing if someone (the author) has said the character’s name out loud so I’ll know how to pronounce it when I read it. It frustrates me when I can’t “be the hero/heroine” because I can’t pronounce my name!

5. Does your character live up to the meaning of his/her name? Names have power. If the hero of your novel is “fearless, motivated, strong”, don’t give him a name that means “stupid, lazy cow.” I love learning the meanings of names. Bible names are my favorite. In their context, the meanings are very telling as to who they are, where they’ve been, and where they’re headed.

6. Is the name “original” in your story? Are there other characters with similar sounding names, rhyming names, same initials? Try as hard as you can to keep names different so you don’t confuse the reader. (EX: “Gerald looked at Gerard and laughed.”…. “I went to the store with Mary, Martha, and Margaret.”)

7. Just a helpful, stress-reducing tip: Don’t choose names that end in “S”. It will help cut down your frustration when you have to use the possessive form. Where in the world does the apostrophe “s” go??? (I should’ve taken this advice with the last name of my character in BOUND: Xanthis’s or Xanthis’ or Xanthis)

**Some great tools for finding names include: baby name books (I have one that I keep close to my computer at all times. The one I have has origins and meanings. It’s been a lifesaver!), Google: names and meanings, phone book, Social Security Name Popularity List, reading name badges at stores…

So, do you have a method for picking names, or do you just hear one you like and use it without checking to see where it comes from?

“I’d love to work with an Asian guy named Wu Hu, because just saying his name would get me all pumped up and excited.” ― Jarod Kintz



3 thoughts on “Choosing Names

  1. I have a book of Celtic names with the meanings of the names. I try to match my characters’ names with the time setting, place, and their personality. 🙂

  2. Love this! You cracked me up with Wu Hu. I try to make sure my names don’t sound anything alike and I look up popular names for the year I’m writing in so they ring true. However, I don’t write fantasy like Harry Potter. Those names are truly original. How did the author find them? Interesting post, Janelle!

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