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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What's In A Name?

We've all stressed over the titles of our novels but what about the name of our characters? If you're like me, you put just as much thought into the names of your characters as you do the title of your novel. Actually, I put more work into naming my characters because the title usually comes along naturally at some point. But the names of my characters are a part of them and they affect a reader's first impression and perception. But Heather, a rose is a rose and all that right? Yes and no.

If I told you my protagonist's name was Poindexter that immediately forms a picture in your mind does it not? Don't worry, that isn't really my protagonist's name. A name can be nerdy, masculine, feminine, beautiful, or complicated, among other things, which is exactly why you should choose carefully. Usually if the name feels right to you then it probably is right for your character. But you must be aware of how it sounds and feels to other people.

Consider the name Poseidon. If you didn't already know that name and associate it with Greek mythology it would sound very foreign and possibly be hard to pronounce for some. Readers might stumble over it and it would therefore become a crutch in the book, something that slows action. However going the opposite direction and using an overly common name might not be something you want to do either. It could be boring and unmemorable to your readers. Now I know that when I say Edward most of you know immediately who I'm talking about and would argue that he is very memorable and nowhere near boring. But Lestat and Louie are just as memorable and certainly more distinctive.

Think of your own name, it has meaning or sentimental value to your parents, some kind of connection to their family or past. I like to use names that have to do with my character's heritage. Of course that can be tough in fantasy but for paranormal or urban fantasy that's the rule I follow. It adds depth and interest. When in doubt grab a book of baby names. I have several I use as references and they've been more than worth their weight in gold. Don't have a baby name book handy? There's always the internet. Find that balance between obscure and common and in the end, go with your heart.

Check out this great article by Writer's Digest on How To Give Your Character The Perfect Name: http://writersdigest.com/article/how-to-give-your-character-the-perfect-name/

7 comments:

  1. Names are hard! I think that's why some moms and dads are still caught with the deer-in-headlights look when their baby is born. Because you've got to get to know a person before you name him or her, right?

    I agree, names are really important. I've even heard that your name can influence your personality. Not sure if it's true, but I'm sure we all have seen trends with the people we know. For example, I know several Aprils and Annas who are writers. Fun stuff!

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  2. I've probably more time on a character's name than I did selecting my kids names.

    I also base my decisions on the character's heritage. It's a great place to start. :D

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  3. That's where we writers are lucky. We can get to know our characters and change their name if we want! That's very interesting about names influencing personality. Come to think of it, I know a few writers who are named April or Anna!

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  4. I definitely put way more thought into the names of my characters than the book title, since the chances are high that the publisher may change the title. Characters, though, are my "kids". I want their names to suit them, their journey, and their life.

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  5. I think character names are so important- you're right, they convey that person's essence to the reader.

    I have to say, there are a couple books where I disliked that character name from the beginning because it was cliche or whatever, and it colored the whole reading experience for me!

    Other times, I've disliked a character's name (Harry, anyone?) and then grown to love it because it does work for the character in some way.

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  6. I know what you mean J. Koyangi, the title could change so I don't get attached to it. But my characters are different!

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  7. I know what you mean Olleymae, I felt the same way about Harry, both Dresden and Potter. I guess that just proves to us that if the writing is good enough the name won't matter so much in the end.

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