Recently, as I was working on my WIP this past weekend and dealing with the additions of a whole bunch of new characters who walked into the story completely uninvited, I realized that one of the most important parts of character creation for me is the name. (I’m fully aware that this is a highly specific niche post. I was kind of stuck for other ideas. Sorry about that.)
So today, I’ll be talking about how I choose said names for my characters.
If you’ve poked around on baby name websites (I listed a couple good ones at the bottom) long enough, you’ve probably noticed that the meanings of names vary hugely from one to another. This is both great and terrible for those of us who like to name our characters based on the meaning of the name: on the plus side, there are so many options to choose from that there’s sure to be at least one to fit your character; on the negative side, there’s enough options to let you spend the rest of the life on your computer searching for the ‘perfect’ name.
Obviously, it has to sound right and fit your story too. Although the names Bertha and Alyssa mean the same thing (bright), they bring to mind distinctly different characters. If your character was an early 2000’s teenager, Alyssa might fit better, while if your character was an early 20th century teenager, Bertha might do the trick. On the other hand, you could name that early 2000’s teenager Bertha and either make her hate her name or love it for being so strange and out of place in her world.
At this point, it would be a bit tricky to pull off naming your character something like, I don’t know, Harry (or God forbid, Harry Potter). That character could be a truck driver in western Idaho, but if you’re writing in a genre anywhere close to YA Fantasy, people’s minds are automatically going to think, ‘Oh, he’s an orphaned boy wizard.’ You’re trying to set your book apart from the rest, so make sure you do the same with your character.
Before I finish up for today, I want to talk really quickly about how I (successfully) named one of my characters. My WIP takes place in an alternate-timeline Earth (it’s actually more complicated than that, but for purposes of not droning on for hours, I’ll spare you the backstory), populated by semi-magical people. The town where my character lives is mostly made up of descendants of European refugees, just like her: her ancestors are English and Scandinavian. While I was debating what to name her, I suddenly remembered a Scandinavian name I had come across when I was little and busy reading baby name books (seriously, don’t ask. I was the weirdest little kid ever): Siri (this was before the iPhone 4s), a nickname for Sigrid.
It fit perfectly. The name means ‘beautiful; victorious’, which, although cheesy, definitely worked for the character, seeing as she’s the protagonist. Even though it’s a pretty uncommon name, it wasn’t impossible to work into the story, and best of all, it was completely open for grabs. After several different drafts, including a few dramatic reworks of the entire plot, Siri’s name still remained. Some of her fellow characters haven’t been so lucky, unfortunately.
Here are some great resources for your quest to find the perfect name:
I’ll be continuing my spiel about character development next Tuesday, but I’ll be posting twice between now and then (Friday and Sunday). Keep an eye out!