The Character Series Part 1/5: Creating Character Names

The Character Series Part 1/5: Creating Character Names

You have a great story idea then you begin to write and you come to that moment . . . what is the name of the primary protagonist? The problem continues as you come to each character thereafter, including secondary and incidental characters. It’s a bear of a problem even if you don’t think so right now. You may even have written the novel and now realize you have name problems.

Following are some things to consider when naming characters:

 

CORRECT NAME FOR THE TIME PERIOD

There are a lot of names that can be used in present-day novels because people are becoming creative or retro in naming their children. However, when writing one easy way to help immediately let a reader know if your story is in the present-day or in the past is by the names you choose to use.

Example 1

Khloe looked out over the sloping green lawn down to the path below. Would he be there this morning . . . as every morning? Would Jayden ignore her father and still pass by regardless of the threats? Did he love her that much?

Think for a moment what time period these names bring to mind.

Example 2

Mildred looked out over the sloping green lawn down to the path below. Would he be there this morning . . . as every morning? Would Edgar ignore her father and still pass by regardless of the threats? Did he love her that much?

 

The First example includes popular names for 2014, while the last includes names from the early 1900s. Even not knowing this information you would know the first should be set in modern-day by the names, they are not names to fit into The Great Gatsby. And Mildred and Edgar are not common names these days. Sure you could use them in a modern setting but just keep in mind how easy simply choosing names will help in having to not explain a lot more in your writing about the time, era your story is set in.

 

REGIONAL NAMES

We talked about using names to help set the general time period of a story, now how about the place, the region, or country? In the United States names are slowly mingling but on the whole, you can use names that will give the reader a feel for where you are headed.

 

Missy looked out over the sloping green lawn down to the path below. Would he be there this morning . . . as every morning? Would Billy ignore her father and still pass by regardless of the threats? Did he love her that much?

I get a rural feel from the above names. More than likely in the south.

 

Khloe looked out over the sloping green lawn down to the path below. Would he be there this morning . . . as every morning? Would Jayden ignore her father and still pass by regardless of the threats? Did he love her that much?

This pairing gives me a feel or the urban, probably a larger city as well.

 

I know, all of you could and are coming up with better examples than I am but you get the point.

 

BE ORIGINAL

When you do create names, even Regional ones, be original. You don’t have to go with Billy Bob to let people know the man lives in the South. Beau is a Southern name and so is Luke. One of those is a little stereotypical and the other less so. It is all up to you how you want to do it, maybe Beau is the name you want to use and it fits somehow. You want the name to stand out but also to be comfortable for the reader to say. Make sure to say the name out loud while using it in a sentence. I like the name to feel good coming off my tongue.

 

AVOID GENDER CONFUSION

If you really want to mess with your readers’ minds then use names that can be either male or female. As the years pass by this is becoming more of a thing. If you say Logan one may think of Wolverine the superhero or they may think of the little girl that was best buddies with their son in preschool and he pushed her in her little walker thing in between two baby beds and said “Bye-bye” as he looked around and saw his parents had arrived. Ashley and Paris are two other examples as well as Sandy.  Add Morgan to that as well.

Don’t cause confusion to your readers. Make them comfortable as quickly as possible. You don’t want them to even have to think about gender, you want them falling into the story.

 

NOT THE SAME LETTER

Don’t have your main characters all having names starting with the same letter. You want distinction for them quickly and no confusion with any other character, especially a protagonist and antagonist.


Next:

Part 2: Things to Avoid when Creating Characters

Part 3: Giving Your Characters Their Character

Part 4: Creating Believable Characters

Part 5: Character Beyond the Internal

Until Next Time,

Much Respect

Ronovan

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29 thoughts on “The Character Series Part 1/5: Creating Character Names

  1. er thanks, I’m having problems with this one on my er.. bigger writing project. But I think I will name all my characters before you know actually writing, How can you write with ought names? Any tips for futuristic names?

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    • When I do futuristic names I sometimes simplify them and even cut out the vowels if not needed. I basically take today’s names and give them a spelling twist.

      I don’t get too crazy or the reader has to work on the name. Also say the name aloud. Several times. Does it sound right and feel right with your tongue. Even when just reading it seems like my mouth is reading as well even though it is not moving.

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  2. I actually can’t write without my characters having names. You raise an excellent point with #5. I know that as an avid reader I’m always getting tripped up if I read a book where 2 main characters have names beginning with the same letter.

    I think that character names make all the difference. Unlike what they look like, it’s concrete and gives an impression. Unless it’s a picture book, you rely on your description to give the reader an idea of the character’s appearance but that part all goes back to the image the reader conjures himself. Some names carry certain images- such as Candy maybe being a ditz or like you mention- Beau being Southern.

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    • Thank you for the comment and mention of point #5. Some people put in any name just so they can write, but names actually help me write in that they do carry so much in the character of the name. This entire week will have short articles about creating characters. I like short ones so you have time to digest points and maybe even use them before going onto the next set of point.
      Much Respect
      Ronovan

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Ronovan, great tips as always. With regards #3, saying the name out loud really does help. What I also often do, is write down names I hear on the TV or Radio and then try swapping the surnames around with each other. If I like what I hear myself saying, then I’ll include that name in the story.

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  4. Excellent tips. I couldn’t help to think of my baby niece’s name, McKinley, as an example of gender confusion. Do you think in character development that could be overcome?

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    • You can overcome it. I would just make certain I but her or she with the name immediately at first. Referring to her gender in some way in the beginning several times, appropriately, makes it less a necessity as the book goes on.

      Liked by 1 person

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