Tuesday, 10 August 2010

My Name Is... Eh...

For me, naming a character is always a long, difficult process. I need the name to be just right or I lose the character when I try to make their personality fit the name (or vice versa). The name of a character represents not only who they are but also where they belong and who they will become.

When you choose names for your character the most important thing is that you are happy with the name. If it doesn't work for you, abandon the name immediately. Using it will only hurt your story.

After you've found a name you like, think about the following things:
  • Do your characters that come from the same place have similar names? It's probably not a good idea to have two characters from the same village named Ch'chnuck and John.
  • Think about the meaning of the name you've chosen. Sure, you like it, but does your strong, evil overlord have a name that means "little, pink flower"?
  • Consider pronunciation. If it's not immediately evident how the name is supposed to be pronounced it'll just be confusing for the reader. Also, if (with any luck) your novel becomes a bestseller, you will have to explain the pronunciation constantly. That would just be frustrating. However, if it is a story point that no one can pronounce the character's name, just go with it.
  • If you give your character a long name, come up with a probable nickname or shorter version of the name as well. It will never work for dialogue if the characters have to say Christoffelelvelyen every time they refer to Chris. Also, people tend to give affectionate nicknames to people they like so it's not more than natural that they don't use his or her full name. Then again, if you want your character to mess with people, have him/her insist on being called by their entire first name.
When I try to choose names I use several techniques. First, I try to come up with something on my own, simply by imagining what a character like the one I'm writing about might be called. Now, this doesn't work very often, simply because I don't know enough names to name all the character that need names. They would all be called Fred or Henry if it were up to my mind alone. So I usually turn to my beloved Internet. These are some sites I have found useful when trying to find names:

Behind the Name
Find Surnames
Baby Names

If you already have the perfect first name for a character - or a surname for that matter - you can search phone books and similar in order to find suitable names. This is also a good idea for finding out how common the name you have chosen is. If you enter you name in a search engine and there are three results, perhaps you need to rethink the name and make it more (or less) common.

The most important thing is that you are happy with the name and that you can imagine you character "becoming" that name. A good indicator if the name is suitable is if you can remember it when you haven't written about the character in a while. If you find yourself wondering what the guy was called who your protagonist spoke to on the train in the previous chapter and whom she now wants to blackmail because she found out he adds triple the amount of sugar in the doughnuts, you should probably name him Tom, not Jack.

No comments:

Post a Comment