What’s In A Name?

I don’t follow a strict set of rules when I name my characters, except that I absolutely must have their name decided before I write them. And once it’s decided, it can’t be changed. It’s weird, but after I’ve picked out the perfect name, something clicks in my brain, and there’s no going back. It’s their name, I can’t change it! (Although there was one time where I was forced to change a character’s name because it was too similar to another character’s name and I still to this day refer to her by her original name… what a disaster!)

Usually, I create the character first, deciding on their physical traits (hair and eye color, etc) before settling on a name. If I’m writing a fantasy story, it’s a little easier to pick a name as I can usually make it up. For contemporary novels, like THE SIGHT SEER, I searched baby name webpages for both common and uncommon names. There was one character in THE SIGHT SEER that gave me trouble, though. I scoured webpages, asked my family for suggestions, but his name just wasn’t coming to me! Each day of writing took me closer and closer to his first appearance, and I began to panic when finally, I figured out what I wanted to call him. I find the whole thing ironic because this character is a total pain in the butt; it figures he would make me crazy over something like this! A few months later, I was stuck yet again on a character that would appear in the proposed sequel. I had two names in mind, but couldn’t make a choice. One night, I had a dream about him and another character; the second character (whose name I already knew) called the first character by one of the names I had picked out. I woke up and thought, “Ah, so that’s his name!” I owe that second character a big thank you for making that difficult decision for me!

Sometimes, if I’m lucky, I’ll stumble across an amazing name and develop a character around it. It usually doesn’t work like this, but it’s great when it does. I also like to keep a notebook handy and write down a name that catches my eye so that in the future, when I’m stuck on a name, I can consult my list.  This is helpful for naming secondary characters–I’ll admit it, I spend a lot more time naming main characters than I do on the ones who only get a few lines here or there. That’s why my main characters will have amazing (well, I think they’re amazing!) names while the secondary characters end up with common names. I’m not going to waste a great name on just anyone!

For all the writers out there, how do you go about naming your characters?

9 thoughts on “What’s In A Name?

  1. Naming characters is the weirdest thing to me! I don’t really have a process, honestly. If it’s a fantasy-type setting I usually just make something up that sounds good or think of some kind of variant on an existing name (Alesaavra, Cynthania, Märcha, Bernel). When they’re “normal” people I kind of just… pick a name? I don’t often have trouble naming my characters, although there is one guy that I waffled on FOREVER because I didn’t think the name I wanted to give him actually suited him, but now I think it does, so it’s fine. If my characters do have names that I’m not just making up, I do sometimes browse about name sites if a name doesn’t occur to me immediately, in which case I often search by name meaning until I pin something down (my favorite site for this is http://www.behindthename.com).

    I actually usually know my characters’ names before I know most anything else about them. I’ll have a general idea who they are, but I usually don’t know what they look like, where they’re from (at least if where they’re from isn’t a big thing), etc., and naming them is a big part of establishing their personality to me.

    The weirdest name I’ve used that I know of is I have a character named Radomir… which is a real name (it’s Russian) but I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE I HEARD IT.

    • I think making up names is easier for me, as well. Although I have an extremely bad habit of giving everyone names that end in “IN.” I guess I like the way that sounds? I also heavily favor the letters “R,” “S,” and “T.” My names aren’t very sophisticated, however (I like the examples you listed but I’d never be able to come up with names like that on my own! You’re really good with last names, too~). Thank goodness for name sites!

      And I’m the exact opposite! I will know about my character and their part in the story long before I’ll come up with a name that fits them! It’s better when I have a name in mind and have to create a character to go with it, but that doesn’t happen very often.

      Radomir is a great name!

      • What I really hate is when the name I feel fits the character best is the name of someone I know! It’s just too weird. Like I have a character named Kyle and I feel like I can never be friends with anyone named Kyle now because he’s such an important character to me.

        Sometimes when I have a lot of trouble with naming a character it’s because I know their name starts with some letter but I don’t know what it is! So I end up looking through M or E or whatever names until I find something that clicks. I favor A names more than anything, but I really favor names that start with vowels in general (I’ve been cycling through the vowels for my RPG characters… so far I’ve had Oivan (which I made up), Astrid (and then was weirded out when the girl in How to Train Your Dragon was named Astrid), and Iphigenia (who is a character from Greek literature… no one in my gaming group can pronounce it and they always call my character “Iffy” haha)). Adrian/Adriana is one of my favorite names ever but I haven’t named any characters either because I’m waiting for the perfect character for it!

      • I was about to say I never named a character after someone I know, but I definitely did that! I spelled it differently, but it’s pronounced the same way. And I didn’t even realize I had done so at first, either! Actually, I did this another time too, again by accident.

        How do you pronounce Iphigenia, btw?

        I remember one time being so jealous of Diana Wynne Jones for coming up with the name Chrestomanci that I spent a ridiculous amount of time searching for a name that was similar, but not too similar. I eventually found one I liked; I’m sad that story was such a terrible mess that I’ll never be able to share it with anyone. But if I can place him in another story, I definitely will!

      • Many of my family members in particular have great names and I feel weird about ever using them! ALTHOUGH I do have a character named Feliciano who goes by Phil (which is what my younger brother goes by). So I guess there’s that!

        Iphigenia is pronounced “If-eh-jen-ai-uh” but I actually usually say “If-eh-jen-ee-uh” because it rolls off the tongue better. It’s more or less how it’s spelled! One of my friends in that same game’s character is named Enfys, but it’s a Welsh name so the f is pronounced like an v and no one ever gets that right either haha. Difficult names everywhere.

  2. I’m not as attached to names early on! I give them whatever name pops into my head and keep writing and will go back later and change it if need be. Once I do find a name I like, though, I get attached to it. But it’s good thing I’m not attached to every character’s name, as you “made me” change at least two characters’ names, lol (for the same reason I “made” you change that one character’s name you’re talking about)! I’m kind of attached to their new names, though.

    • It’s interesting to read how others go about this process. I’m very attached to the names, from the start until the end. It has to be the perfect name right off the bat or else I will be miserable (and being forced to change names makes me even more miserable! Sorry I made you change yours!). I can’t even imagine writing a story and changing the main character’s name halfway through. It would probably break my heart or something, lol.

  3. I never have trouble naming my characters… I have always loved names, and have a million of them from my previous short stories and horrible attempts at novels when I was younger… I had a huge list somewhere, and I basically feel like I’m always waiting for the perfect chance to name a character. The names and how my characters look always form naturally… it’s the story itself that gives me the most trouble, lol.

    I’ve had to change a few characters name’s before, but it was early enough in the writing process that it didn’t bother me too much thankfully.

    Also I find that at times some of my secondary characters name’s reflect the things going on in my life… sometimes I name them after people that I’m near, other times I name them after other characters in novels, songs, or TV shows/ movies that I’m currently watching. I think it’s always fun to look back and see where they came from.

    But as of right now I have three main novels in my head, and all of them were created for the main characters, who have very specific names that more-or-less spurred the entire thing on… if that makes any type of sense.

    • I have no trouble forming the character, but searching for the perfect name can really slow me down! So I’m jealous that you’re able to come up with names so easily!

      I get what you mean about characters whose names inspire the novel. This happened with one of mine (the epic fantasy). It originally started as a story written between me and another friend, but after that didn’t go anywhere, I HAD to keep going with it because I HAD to share this character’s story. And this particular character’s name came to me one day while at work. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to write a character with that name.

      I wish I kept track of where some of my names come from. Sometimes I just play around with letters, but sometimes I do research online and find something I like. And sometimes, it just comes to me. But where does it come from? It’s so weird how we can just pick things out of our brains like that, lol.

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