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How do you choose your characters’ names?
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Accuracy matters. You may have a name rattling about your skull that you think is great, but you might want to slow your roll before applying it to your next book/character. I’m very serious. Do you know how important a name is? Shakespeare wasn’t saying that anything goes. He was actually pointing out that certain considerations could prove deadly to an endeavor.
I want you to consider as you go through this with me, about what Juliet was ignoring by her quote? The very real reality that others judge you and gauge who you are by the name you carry. It is inescapable despite efforts not to judge a book by its cover (which is another inescapable literal reality).
When choosing a name, it certainly is entirely up to the author who creates the characterization enveloped in it. That said, there are consequences to every decision we make as an author. Name selection deserves respectful consideration. Just because we may believe that name that we came up with is fantastic name, this doesn’t mean that it works the way we feel it does when applied. Do you want to be the one they make mocking comments to, leave low reviews, or even create derisive videos about? I bet not! While you think this is great exposure for your work, this kind of content removes all respect for your work. Any review isn’t a good review.
Why might a reader do such a thing? Frankly, because you didn’t do your due diligence in selecting a name. Whether you are writing a fantasy, science fiction story, or a historical piece, you want to be absolutely sure that your selected name is the best you can muster. That goofy stripper name rattling around your head isn’t the best go at naming your sci-fi outworld princess nor your favorite elf. I’m not sorry I said it.
If you haven’t built a culture around fantasy and science fiction characters, you haven’t really gotten to the point where you can start naming them. Have you thought about what is inspiring that name pop-rocks-ing it through your thoughts? What does it sound like? Does it create the emotions you want your readers to feel when you hear it? Give your character a cheap name and you’ll cheapen them. Take the time to explore the character and the culture from which they come–even if you’re making it up.
While a name that just sort of came to you sounds great in your head, give it a thorough test. When writing historical fiction, you will need to know if that name is period, location, ethnic, and culturally appropriate. Should you be writing fantasy or science fiction, consider all of those things in alignment with the world in which you’ve set your story. Names convey an exponential amount of characterization.
Should you still go with the glitterati name you picked off a sticky dance floor regardless of this advice, realize that everything that name contains is potentially a pandora’s box. Like I said before, if you pick a stripper name for a princess, do not expect her to be respected by readers or other characters. She’s diminished when called something beneath her. There are gads of videos laughing at poor choices made by authors along these lines. It’s a meme! Respect yourself, your work, and the art form by being more choosy. It will pay you back in dividends.
Speaking of Pandora, did you know that names can serve as an Easter egg for your readers? Today’s discerning reader will love unpacking the details you packed into your book, uncovering more and more with every go. You do not have to bash them over the head with the meaning, either. Just let them look it up themselves. Leave it at the name existing in your book. It’s enough.
There are so many sites out there to derive names from. Baby sites are a favorite of mine due to the sorting options. Once you’ve found something you like, look into it more deeply. Have you ever looked into your own name? That’s it. Same thing. That’s how you look.
What if you make it up? The sound of it will emote the meaning you’re seeking from it when attached to your character. Princess Bubbles says it all, am I right? Oh, boy. So does, Jewelalynn or some other amateurish mashup. She sounds young and silly. That reminds me, your application of names goes beyond those cultural aspects to more personal details like age, aspiration, ability, intelligence, and maybe even vocation. I can’t imagine calling a warrior Jewelalynn and having her taken seriously.
Have you ever watched Star Wars episodes and wondered who was allowed to name that character? One of the most recent is Grogu. That name suggests something more along the lines of a villainous slug than a cute baby ninja. Folks reacted to the reveal with a mix of emotions, mostly bad. Luckily, they let everyone get deeply attached before they pulled the lid off that 1-star dish. That is the only thing that saved him and that show. Remember poor Jarjar? So, even the super professionals can mess this up! Thank god, they did their due diligence every where else-mostly.
If you’re wedded to that sodapop name in your head, audience test it with trusted people. They will tell you what they think of it. Be thankful for them, because they can help make your character better and stronger. All of that matters to building readership. Just as they won’t take your story seriously because of terrible names, they will also cease to take you seriously.
Research matters in so many aspects when writing a book. Check out what the other authors have to say about how they choose a name for their characters by clicking on their links below. It’s super important for a writer to understand these small nuances in order to give themselves the best shot. Don’t forget to add your email address in the box at the top right to get this hop and great writing tips delivered to your inbox each Friday. See you back here next week!
Other hops where I spoke about naming conventions: