You want just the right resonance, just the right rhythm. A name that’s memorable. A name that reflects the character’s personality and background.
According to a baby name book I’ve had on my bookshelf for eons (okay, probably since the mid-‘80s), “The name should sound pleasant and not leave open strong possibilities for embarrassing or derogatory nicknames like Piggy or Fatso.”
Unless that’s what you had in mind for a particular character.
Other helpful pointers from a sampling of my name reference books:
- One-syllable family names normally sound best with a two- or three-syllable first name. Examples: Miranda Smith. Johnny Jones.
- Long last names should have one- or two-syllable first names. Examples: Susan Hutchinson. James Rosenblum.
- Alternate accented syllables with unaccented syllables. Examples: Maxwell Carter. Sue McPherson.
- Don’t rhyme the first name and last name. Examples: Larry Berry. Kathy Abernathy.
- Watch out for embarrassing initials! Examples: Michael Umberto Dithers (MUD). Peggy Edwina Williams (PEW).
- Contemporary or historical?
- Romance or science fiction?
- Mystery or horror?
- Western or action/adventure?
Make sure the name is appropriate for the setting and era as well as for the character’s age, ethnicity, and occupation.
The most memorable character names are those that evoke a certain response in the reader--names that suggest important information about the character. Is he rich? Is she sophisticated? Is he an Irish rogue? Is she a Southern belle?
How about a doctor named Welby? An attorney named Mason? A coyote named Wylie? (Oops, just had to throw that one in. And yes, for you trivia purists, I know it’s spelled Wile E.)
The hero of my novel A Horseman’s Heart is Kip Lorimer. His last name means saddle maker, which is his secondary occupation. In the new historical romance series I’m writing for Abingdon Press, the hero in book 1 is an Army chaplain named Samuel Vickary. Your readers may not always pick up on the subtlety of a name meaning, but just by being aware of it yourself, you’ll infuse the character with greater depth.
While you may labor for days or weeks over choosing the ideal name for your major story characters, it can be equally important to choose carefully when naming a subordinate character--even more so, a walk-on, because the character’s name may be the only clue your reader has about this character’s role and personality.
- Guido, the enforcer.
- Slim, the tall Texas cowboy.
- Candy, the mini-skirted flirt.
Many visitors to Seekerville have already downloaded my Excel Novel Planning Workbook, which includes a character name chart. Using the chart, you enter each name twice--first name/last name, then last name/first name--in the appropriate alphabet row. Then you can see at a glance how many names you’ve used beginning with each letter.
Here’s a partial screenshot:
Some helpful Web sites for naming your characters:
http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/ (Here you can look up popular names by decade.)
http://www.20000-names.com/ (Names from around the world.)
Oh, and for any Scrivener users out there, have you discovered the name generator tool? It’s a fun and quick way to create long lists of possible (and sometimes quite quirky) first name/last name combinations.
Let’s talk about character names. Do you have any favorites from your own writing? How did you come up with the name? Why do you find it meaningful?
How about characters from movies, TV, or books you’ve read? Which ones are particularly memorable, and why?
Leave a comment on today’s post to be entered in a drawing for Sherrilyn Kenyon’s The Writer’s Digest Character-Naming Sourcebook. It’s one of my favorites!
For extra credit (not really--this is just for fun) can you match these character names with the correct Seeker novel?
Hannah Hughes A Horseman’s Heart
Lydia Sloan Rocky Mountain Hero
Ryan Jones Reunited Hearts
Livy O’Brien Love on Assignment
Wendell Gilliland Stealing Jake
Abigail Wilson Nowhere to Hide
Charlotte Hale Oklahoma Reunion
Alyssa Langley A Hope Undaunted
Sterling Wade In Too Deep
Sheridan Cross A House Full of Hope
Luke McGee A Home in His Heart
Sandi Bradshaw An Inconvenient Match
Gabe Davidson The Price of Victory