5 Rules to Pick the Right Name for Your Characters
Every writer dreams of creating a book that will touch the hearts of his/her readers, a story that will be remembered. In order to achieve this goal, you will evidently need to have a good story and a strong writing, but choosing the right name for your characters (and places if you write fantasy) is also a very important part. I’ve been questioning the names of cities and characters in my book wondering if they suit the atmosphere of the place or the personality of the characters.
If you have a great story, picking the right name will make the character unique and unforgettable. When I think of Harry Potter, Bilbo Baggins or Katniss Everdeen, their names bring to mind a clear picture of their unique personality. The same applies to places – Hogwarts, Mordor or District 12. Selecting the right name will help create the right setting for your story. You need names your readers won’t forget.
But, how exactly can you achieve this?
Focus on the message and go back to the roots.
When you are trying to find the perfect name for your character, take the message you are trying to share through this character into account. You can’t name a weak and frightened character Leo. Well, rules can be broken, but you will need a heck of a backstory to support it and make it work.
Choose a name that reveals the character’s true personality and allows readers to remember that character in the right way. There is also a reason why Tolkien named the small and funny hobbits Bilbo and Frodo, while the powerful wizard is called Gandalf.
Root meanings may impact your character’s personality or backstory. Using a dictionary of names is a great start to understand the name – Behindthename.com is one of the sites I’ve used, but there are other similar websites online you may check.
Don’t go too far
Many writers are tempted to use some very entertaining, ironic or even humorous names. Of course, if your book and the basic story are about irony and comedy you can probably select such names.
Say the first and last name out loud. It will help figure out if another hidden meaning could destroy the character’s credibility and unintentionally alter your story. Also, the reader should not be confused by its pronunciation or anything else that could hinder the story.
In addition, you should not use the character’s name to reveal too much of the story and their personality. For instance, if you name your character Dick Goodman in a romance novel, you can expect a few laughs from your reader, but this is definitely NOT something you want. However, if your main character is named John Mitchell, then you can expect a better (neutral) reaction.
Whenever you are trying to select a good name for your character, choose names that don’t say a lot about his or hers secrets and mysteries.
Regardless of the genre, people like mystery because they want to get to know and understand your characters as the story unfolds.
Past, present or future?
Another important thing that you should take into consideration is the time when your characters live. If you are writing a historical novel, then giving your character a modern name will make no sense. Readers will have difficulty relating to these characters. In this case, you should research the name on the Internet and find names that were popular at that time.
You may want to use the Social Security Administration website if you write a historical novel based in the U.S. The same goes for stories at present time.
Writers focused on sci-fi and fantasy have more options. This is where you can unleash your creativity not only through the story, but also in selecting names. Traveling is a great way to get inspiration for names of people and cities. Discovering cultures through similar books or watching documentaries may also provide the tools to build your own world.
Think about the location
In addition to the time, you must also consider the location too. Where was your character born? In most cases, parents give names that are popular in the certain region and they are usually related to their culture, traditions, and religion. A character born in England will probably have a different name from a character born in California. Even when we are talking about characters from the same country or state, there is a difference between rural and urban areas.
We all know how location affects name giving in real life, so your book’s characters shouldn’t be different. Research the location extensively. You may have a reader from the location used in your book reading your book so it needs to be authentic. This website www.20000-names.com is great if you’re looking for names for a specific ethnicity. Be authentic and truthful to your characters.
Use adequate names
As previously mentioned, avoid funny names. There are some great names that are adequate for main heroes, ordinary characters and for villains too. Think about the names of the most popular heroes and villains and try to adjust them to your story.
Using alliterative initials can also create stronger names such as Bilbo Baggins or Severus Snape. It’s catchy and you can’t forget them.
Finally, select a character’s name that sounds and feels right to you, but never a real name. You want the reader to relate to your character, not make them think it’s about them. I know some writers like “borrowing” names from family members, friends or even pets. I don’t personally, but it might work for you.
Names are a fantastic way to provide a character’s backstory and make the reader relate to them. With that said, be truthful to the time, location and history behind the name. It’s your responsibility to ensure the perfect ride for your reader.