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The Strategic Art of Naming a Character by Marie Lavender
The Strategic Art of Naming a Character
by Marie Lavender
One of the most challenging parts of being a fiction
(or creative nonfiction) writer is making the right choices about certain
aspects of the writing process. Creativity is key with character development,
yet we also want those individuals to be authentic, relatable to readers.
That’s why we sometimes find character names a tad difficult to pin down.
In real life, people are interesting. They have all
sort of names, right?
Plus, every writer is different. We each have our own
process, of course, but for those who could use a few tips – and for book
readers who might be curious about the approach to character designation –
I’ll include some advice here.
This is more
complicated than it sounds. There have been plenty of times when I didn’t know
the ins and outs of a character until I finished the character worksheet. Knowing these various nuances of their
personality, all the traits that make them three-dimensional – realistic to
readers – can help you choose the best name for your character.
His or Her Background.
ethnicity and culture will likely affect your decision. Even if the individual
only has some Irish roots, for example, there would’ve been an Irish surname
somewhere. Or perhaps a parent chose a foreign first name or middle name on a
whim, something unique for their child. There is a reason behind every name.
One great resource,
among others, for determining a culturally derived name is behindthename.com.
I also use surnames.behindthename.com
when I need to find a good last name for a character. In any case, ethnicity
may affect how you name a character, especially if you’re focused on
You may not think it
matters, but sometimes a character’s physical appearance can be a strong
indicator for how he or she should be named. The way the person dresses,
certain mannerisms, among the more obvious traits such as hair and eye color,
may have a significant effect on the naming process.
Not that we should make such assumptions, but come on, let's face it. People tend to do so.
There is also the
option of good irony. Imagine having a Gallant who wasn’t so polite in Highlights for Children.
and Double-check for Redundancies.
During the development
of a story, we don’t always consider that a name could’ve been used before.
Often minor characters’ names will pop up again and again in separate stories,
and that’s okay. Unless you’re writing a series – then you’ll need everything perfect
across the board –it usually won’t make a difference. As for secondary
characters that get the spotlight later in the series, they should get special
What you should focus
on, for the most part, are the names of main
characters. You don’t want an Ethan in one story, and another Ethan in a
different book. It confuses your audience, especially if they’ve been following
your work for a while. Pay special attention to surnames – the more common ones
in particular. It’s so easy to stumble into a repetitive name without even
intending the mistake.
I don’t know about you,
but my memory isn’t quite what it used to be! I have to be extra careful not to
overuse certain names, and I’ll switch something out now and then during the
Creative, Not Crazy.
I am a big fan of
distinctive character names. But don’t select one which is impossible to
pronounce or understand. You’ll see this often in fantasy and sci-fi tales. Try
not to alienate your reader, however. Be loyal to the originality of your
characters, but also keep them relatable.
If you are writing in
one of the aforementioned genres, I think using a strange surname would work
just as well, as long as it’s not mentioned throughout the book. And if you
toss in a bunch of perplexing, crazy names for all the characters in the story, you can likely expect your readers
to fling the book across the room in frustration.
Ouch…and if it's an ebook, hope they don’t
kill their Kindle! ;)
Just be careful about
throwing in farfetched names. Use unique
First, Ask Questions Later.
WhenI am truly at a loss for a good
character name, I will either do the usual he/she personal pronouns for a
while, or I’ll implement a temporary name until I can find a better one.
point here is to write out the story first. Don’t get hung up on
the details. You can always fix it later. Nothing
is ever final, at least until you’ve submitted a manuscript to a publisher,
or the book has already gone to print.
Outside the Box.
Doesn’t this fit in the
‘be creative, not crazy’ tip? Not exactly. What I’d like to suggest here is the
notion of approaching the name creation process a little differently. Some
options could be…
a common name in a new way.
the full name of a person you know, or even a character you’ve used before.
Jumble the letters around until you’ve created a different name entirely. Would
this fit one of your characters, perhaps?
an abstract noun.
you ever considered using an abstract noun to describe your character’s
personality? These could become a defining attribute while also naming a
examples include Hope, Faith, Charity, Mercy, Patience, Prudence, and the list
just goes on.
occupation as a name.
Huh, how would that
always Hunter, Mason, Piper, Taylor, Archer, Page, or Deacon, to name a few.
a character collage.
a collage with pictures you find online. Every photo should represent a facet
of your character, not only their physical appearance, but possible hobbies,
strengths and weaknesses.
Approach the naming
process in whichever way works best for that character and story. Start out
with an intriguing name, and let the tale flow.
Maybe Felicia (you can
choose any name, of course) stumbles across a magical library.
Fabrizio Magoni, Unsplash
Or, Character A needs
Character B’s help in a big chef competition. What makes these two people tick?
In what ways are they unique? Which names might fit your characters?
Sometimes a character will surprise you. You may not
completely understand them until you’ve finished writing the book. Then the
name you’ve chosen rings true. It’s so right that you wonder how it could’ve
been anything else.
Bruce Mars, pexels.com
It doesn’t matter how you decide to approach naming your
character, just as long as the name fits. So…give me your impression as a writer, or even as a
Are there names that bothered you in stories you read? Yes or no?
And, why? Was a character’s name hard to pronounce, or far too complicated? Or
did the author do well in his or her choice?
What techniques do you, or would you, use to come up
with the perfect character name? Let me know…we’ll start a discussion in the
And, of course, happy reading! :)
author of Victorian romance, UPON YOUR RETURN, and 23 other books. Reached the Top
10 Authors list on AuthorsDB.com for the last 4 years. Featured interview in
the January 2018 issue of Womelle Magazine. The Heiresses in Love Trilogy made
the TOP 10 on the Anthology category on the 2018 P&E Readers' Poll, and
BLOOD INSTINCTS reached TOP 10 status in the Romance category. The Heiresses in
Love Trilogy and DIRECTIONS OF THE HEART both reached the semi-finalist round
in the 2018 AuthorsDB Book Cover Contest. Voted TOP BLOGGER for 2018 on the
Romance Lives Forever Blog. TOP 20 Authors of 2018 on Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews
blog. DIRECTIONS OF THE HEART was nominated and made it past the first round in
the 2018 Author Academy Awards. UPON YOUR LOVE and THE MISSING PIECE placed in
the TOP 10 on the 2017 P&E Readers' Poll. DIRECTIONS OF THE HEART was
nominated for the 2017 Reader's Choice Awards. The I Love Romance Blog became a
finalist in StartDating DK's Romance Blog Awards of 2017. ILRB landed on
Feedspot’s 2017 TOP 100 Novel Blogs and TOP 100 Romance Blogs. DIRECTIONS OF
THE HEART placed in the TOP 10 Books of 2017 on Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews blog.
TOP 20 Authors of 2017 on Amy’s Bookshelf Reviews blog. Mystery Blogger Award
for 2017. A to Z Blog Challenge Survivor in 2016. March 2016 Empress of the
Universe title - winner of the "Broken Heart" themed contest and the "I
Love You" themed contest on Poetry Universe. SECOND CHANCE HEART and A
LITTLE MAGICK placed in the TOP 10 on the 2015 P&E Readers' Poll. Nominated
in the TRR Readers' Choice Awards for Winter 2015. Poetry winner of the 2015
PnPAuthors Contest. The Versatile Blogger Award for 2015. Honorable Mention in
the 2014 BTS Red Carpet Book Awards. Finalist and Runner-up in the 2014
MARSocial's Author of the Year Competition. Honorable mention in the January
2014 Reader's Choice Award. Liebster Blogger Award for 2013, 2014 and 2016. 2013
and 2014 Amazon Bestseller Ranking for UPON YOUR RETURN. Winner of the Great
One Liners Contest on the Directory of Published Authors.
Lavender lives in the Midwest with her family and two cats. She has been
writing for a little over twenty-five years. She has more works in progress
than she can count on two hands. Since 2010, Marie has published 24 books in
the genres of historical romance, contemporary romance, romantic suspense,
paranormal romance, dramatic fiction, fantasy, science fiction,
mystery/thriller, literary fiction and poetry. She writes adult fiction, as well as occasional stories for
children, and has recently started some young adult fiction. She has also contributed to
several anthologies. Her current published series are The Heiresses in Love
Series, The Eternal Hearts Series, The Magick Series, The Code of Endhivar
Series and The Blood at First Sight Series.