Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Writer's Bane & Joy - Character Naming

Names = preconceptions. 

That's the way it is, you can't get away from it. You hear the name John or Cameron, Elizabeth or Carie and from somewhere deep inside you conjure.

Yes, you do.

Elizabeth can become Liz or Lizzie Bet or Betty.

Names can come from ethnic background, religious beliefs, or maybe a roll of the dice.

Think about it and you realize quickly enough how important the naming of your characters in script, novel or short story can be. Names can be a stumbling block or an inspiration. Easily remembered or a struggle. Give a character a wimpy or even just neutral name and you're liable to have a character who's unmotivated and doesn't do a whole lot.  Give that character a spunky name, a heroic name and weirdly it will even affect you as the writer. The right name fills a void and pumps life into that character.

Readers will tell you the same. A name that's right, for whatever reason, strikes a chord and draws the reader in.

What's in a name? A whole heckuva lot!

I still have a collection of name books on my shelf in hard copy.  Names are a must, they're important, they're character. When I'm stuck for a name it drives me crazy and I know it affects other writers the same way. There should be some magic method, but alas, there isn't.

But there are some things you can do, some places you can go.

Okay, simply, for starters, don't have your characters names all start with the same letter.  No Mary, Max, Megan, Melissa, Matt, get it. It slows the reader down, makes him focus on which "M" character has taken the stage. I've mentioned this in another post, but it still holds.

When you pick a name, choose one that's realistic. When you're plowing through all the possibles it's easy to start reaching, you know, going for a  name that really stands out. Something flowery and expressive, or out of the medieval texts (that's okay  if you're writing a historical piece). But don't get carried away. Some characters are just "Bob" or "John" - really. The key is in how the character name fits - both the character and the story.

If what you're writing has a historic or geographic need to fulfill with the name, then do so.  The last thing you want to do is to insert a name so out of character with the time or place that you trip your reader right into a sudden dose of reality that drags them out of the dream world you created.

Another thought.  Is the name you've chosen gender-neutral?  Is it Lee or Tracy? If it is, make sure you make it plain from the get-go whether it's male or female.

Oh, and while I'm thinking of it, don't hesitate to change a name when the first one you picked just isn't working.  That's why you have a global replace function.

So, where can you look for all these names.  Lots of places. The Character Naming Sourcebook 

There's the Social Security Administration's records of baby names

You can find Victorian Era names.  

Then there's The Random Name Generator 

 The Fantasy Name Generator  that has links to several generators.

The Random Title Generator  Ooops, but that's a whole 'nother thing.

The Elvish Name Generator 

The Fake name Generator  

Behind The Name - Baby name meanings of first names

Then there's the Victorian and Steampunk name generator 

and probably a whole lot more if you care to spend some more time searching.

Check them out, tell me what you think and comment on your own name selection struggles.

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