Character names can be tricky fishes. Occasionally you'll think you've got the perfect name for your protagonist, only to get halfway through a story and realise that the name no longer suits them. Names can be used to stunning effect, evoking images, sounds, and even themes. They can hold meaning, both hidden and obvious, or they can be so generic that they don't stand out at all.
But it's a fine line between picking
a name you want, picking a name that fits the character, and picking
something that's not going to jar or distract readers.
often advised to avoid names that are too out there, absurd or overly
complex, and just plain impossible to pronounce. But occasionally a
story will call for the wacky. A good example of this is Douglas Adams's
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, where you can find names like
Zaphod Beeblebrox and Slartibartfast. And that's OK, because it's a
space comedy whose ethos is the pointlessness of trying to make an
impact in an unfathomable universe--absurd names are the least of these
characters' problems. The thing is, those names probably wouldn't work
so well in a contemporary romance or a period drama like Downton Abbey.
then there are names that try just a little too hard to make the
character sound cool or edgy. If you're writing an action thriller,
calling your ex-marine protagonist Rock Stoneblast might draw more
snickers than anything. Actually, a while back Sky compiled a list of 20 Mental Movie Monikers, worth checking out for the lols.
and fantasy fall victim to impossible character and place names more
often than most other genres. This is where you get your L'kazyx'hiqxues
from planet Xzerquee'h'ex or somesuch (which is probably in the
Pzzy'awxze'a galaxy). These monstrosities can be enough to make a reader
quit early on. There's also the issue of people who read out loud to
themselves or read stories to other people, and don't forget audiobooks.
When I pick names for my characters, the first thing I do is check their meanings on Behind the Name,
just to make sure I'm not making any unintentional faux pas. The nerd
in me quite likes it when an author gets clever with name meanings. You
never know, there might be a reader who looks it up and is surprised to
find the meaning has a connection to the characters' backstory,
You also need to be mindful of when your story is
set and which names were popular at the time. Putting a Beyoncé in 17th
Century rural England probably won't fly with the history buffs. ;)
are tons of excellent sources for names, if you're really stuck. With a
little patience, you can generally find good stuff in the phone book,
movie or TV show credits, even graveyards (creepy, I know, but sometimes
you have to get creative!). And there are the online venues Baby Names, The Internet Surname Database, Random Name Generator, as well as Behind the Name (linked above). And a silly one, Name Generator Fun.
how do you go about naming your characters? Do they walk into your head
fully formed with a name, or do you begin with a name and build the
character around it? Do you struggle to find fitting names for your
chars? Have you encountered any memorable names from books/TV/movies
that you want to share? I'd love to hear them!
(This entry was originally written for and posted to the Get Your Words Out community on LiveJournal.)