woman smelling flowers helps in character design
writing a novel,  writing fiction

Name that Character

How do you name your characters?

Some popular authors have created unique names for their characters, while others have used common names. JK Rowling uses names like Dumbledore, Romilda, Lovegood, and Nymphadora. Stephenie Meyer uses Edward, an ordinary name, for the hero of the Twilight series, as well as other common names such as Jacob, Renee, Jessica, and Alice.

Names of People You Know

When I wrote my first novel, I used names of girls I knew in high school. It didn’t occur to me that the names might “date my story.” One of the editors suggested I rename those characters using names that were popular at the time I wrote the story (many years after I was in high school). That thought hadn’t occurred to me.

Since I wouldn’t have used the names Agnes or Gladys because it made me think of older ladies instead of teenagers, I decided to take the advice and change the names. I found popular names at the time and used them to name my characters.

Name Associations

A name will have different associations for different readers depending on their own unique experiences.

For example, one reader may think that the name Angie is associated with a fat, ugly girl while another may think of someone extraordinarily beautiful. The name of Doug always makes me think of a boy wearing glasses because all the boys I knew named Doug, wore glasses. I still can’t get away from that association.

For me, there are names I could never use in my stories because of the associations I have with those names. I knew a girl in elementary school whose sole purpose for living, it seemed, was to call me names and otherwise be mean to me. To this day, when I hear her name, I think of a bully. So I would never use that name for my heroine.

How Will Readers React?

It’s impossible, as a writer, to predict how readers will react to a name, but you can do some minor research to make sure the name you choose fits your character. You can do a Google search and even look at celebrities with that name.

Once you choose a name, try it out on friends, writing partners, or critique groups to get a feel of how people will react to the name.

Ideas on How to Find Names for Your Characters

Baby Name Book. These books are readily available and generally include the definition of the name as well as different variations. Many baby name books will include a list of the most popular names of a particular year or other time span.

Social Security Name Index. Go here: www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames and it will give you the most popular 100 names of any given year. This is especially helpful if you’re writing a story set in the past. You can also determine the popularity of the name you’ve chosen for your character.

Use names of Relatives. You can search through family records and genealogy charts to find unique names. As a word of warning, don’t use a family name for a character that might offend the family member.

Yearbooks. Find high school yearbooks and search through the pages to find names.

Names You Wanted for Your Children. Many women who write tend to choose names for their characters that they wanted to name their children but were unable to do so.

Combinations. You can combine certain names and see if the name you’ve created appeals to you.

News Sources. Reading through news stories or current events can give you ideas for names.

Naming Characters is Important

Naming characters is important because readers may associate certain things with names. You want the names you’ve chosen to correctly communicate what you want to be communicated about your character. If you name your hero Adolf, or use the last name of Hitler for another character, it may alienate readers. The name Jezebel generally has a negative connotation and may motivate readers to dislike the character based on name only.

Also, naming a character something complicated may pull a reader out of the story. You don’t want readers stumbling over how to pronounce the names of your characters. Make every effort to keep your reader sucked into your story.

Be wise as you name your characters so readers don’t get distracted by stigmas attached to names. Your characters are your “babies” make sure you name them well.

***Grab my FREE Character Packet to help you design compelling, realistic characters who will bring your story to life.

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In this course, Writing a Fantastic First Chapter, you will learn what components you need to include in your first chapter to hook readers. With examples and assignments, you will put into practice what you learn and you can ask questions all along the way. A first chapter checklist, a character sheet, and a character interview are all included as downloads.

Don’t try to write a first chapter in the dark. This course will shine the light on what elements you need to help you navigate writing the all-important first chapter, so you can win over readers.

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