Have you ever had one of those weeks where nothing seems to go your way? That was my week last week. Due to unexpected issues, I wasn’t able to get a blog post out. Hopefully things will calm down and be good.
As I worked on finishing a writing project, I discovered myself thinking about another project that I hoped to begin working on. This project was only in the beginning stages so I spent some time thinking about the characters who were only briefly peeking into existence in my head. The problem was, which I seem to find myself facing every time I set up to begin a new story, was what to name these strangers.
I will admit, there have been a few projects where the names instantly pop into my head. These are ones which I have been working on for a while and somewhere along the way, the names just came to me. Most of the stories I begin to write I need to discover the characters and this typically starts with me finding their names.
What’s in a name
The name of your character, I feel, is one of the most important parts of writing anything from a short story to a novel. Your character’s names could really make or break a story. All writers feel a connection to their creations, just like mother’s feel a connection to their babies. Mothers wouldn’t just randomly name their children. Neither should a writer.
Readers think of books by the name of the characters in the book. Think of Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, and Christian Grey. These characters go hand in hand with the books in which they appear. Wouldn’t you forever what your character thought of? I know I would.
Coming up with a name
So, how do writers come up with their characters’ names?
I can tell you my method and maybe it will help you out in your future writing.
I typically start by having some idea about the character. Typically it is a vision of their face or a trait they have. Maybe even just the color of their hair. Then I continue thinking about this character until I have a pretty good idea of what type of person this character will be. I might not be able to tell you everything about this character, but I can tell you a great deal. This is needed in order to find the name that suits my character.
Once I have all of this information, I start my search for the perfect name.
It begins with me going through names. I visit baby name sites and even the SS name popularity list (www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames) to come up with a number of names. I basically read through names and any that seem to give off a vibe, I add to the list. Then I start to research these names.
The meaning and origin of a name are the items that make the next determination. I read through the meanings of the names I have on my list. If they seem to fit my character, then it pops to the next round. If it doesn’t, then good-bye. The interesting things is that I sometimes find additional names to include in the list. And other times, I discover a meaning to a name which makes that name the one.
If I don’t have any definite names after the meaning and origin search, then I do one final read through. I let the names sit in my subconscious until the character finally yells at me… “That is my name!”
Pretty simple right? It all depends since sometimes I find that the list of names don’t have any meanings which will actually lead to the character. I need to redo the whole thing until I find the perfect name. It all depends on the character which is floating in my head. Almost like from the very beginning, they know their name, but instead of telling me, they make me work.
Some tips to keep in mind
When you begin looking at names for your character, start with looking at their age. Determine when your character was born and look at the popular names during those times. This has helped me to come up with a list as well as narrow it down sometimes. Yet, you don’t necessarily have to settle on those names. We all know that children are given names that mean something to parents and don’t always follow along with the current popularity.
Remember nicknames. How many people are typically called by their full names? I know that I rarely get called by my full first name, although I do call my son by his full first name. Coming up with nicknames can help you come up with relationships between your characters because sometimes it depends on these relationship on what names they call the other character. Husbands and wives have nicknames for each other that might not have anything to do with their real names. Some people might even have a nickname that has nothing to do with their name. My father’s name was Charles, but if you get around his family… they called him Mike.
Coming up with the name for your character can be a fun time in your pursuit of a story. Don’t allow it to overwhelm you, but know that the name is just as important to your story as the plot.