The Dos and Don’ts of Naming Your Characters

NOTE: This is a guest post from Writer’s Relief, a popular author submission service. 

Authors often put as much thought into naming their characters as parents do into naming their children. A character’s name will shape the reader’s entire impression of him or her and ultimately factor into the reader’s opinion of your book. Whether naming your characters comes to you naturally or you spend days poring over baby name books for inspiration, here’s a list of dos and don’ts that will make the process painless!

DO…

Consider the story’s setting. Choosing a name outside traditional historical context can ruin an otherwise well-researched novel or story. Writing about a German stowaway during the Holocaust? Make sure to give her a traditional German name. And a boy growing up in Japan during the 1800s is unlikely to be named Atticus. Keep in mind: Some cultures historically used naming traditions quite different from what we see today.

Consider the character’s age. Be sure to take into account when your character was born. Look up names that would have been popular during that time period—so you can avoid inadvertently labeling the character with the wrong name. “Gertrude” was all the rage for babies in 1907, but very few of today’s twenty-somethings would have that name.

“Borrow” from friends, family, or celebrity heroes. Know someone with the same traits as your character? Let the real-life person inspire the name of your fictional character! Just be careful not to borrow more than the person’s name. Your character, even if they share a name with someone real, should be totally unique.

Think about personality. A character’s name can be a great way to acquaint readers with their personality traits—before any of these traits are overtly revealed. For example, the name “Bill” immediately conjures someone ordinary, whereas “Alexandria” brings to mind someone regal and extravagant. Make sure your character makes the right first impression.

DON’T…

Repeat the same first letter for too many characters’ names. If the names of two characters sound too much alike, your reader is bound to get the characters mixed up, even if their personalities are nothing alike. Give your characters names that are distinctive from one another to avoid any confusion.

Use an illogical name without an explanation. Say you’ve chosen to name your thirteen-year-old character “Bertha,” a moniker typically considered old-fashioned and better suited to an older demographic. This choice could work in your favor—but if you don’t properly explain the circumstances behind it, your readers may be distracted through your entire book. The same goes for discrepancies in time, personality, and setting when choosing a name.

Pick an overused or over-the-top name. Certain names have been used, both in life and in literature, to the point where they’re well past tired. For example, most readers will have read at least five other books with a hero named “Jack.” But don’t jump to the other end of the spectrum either—Rosalina Rossignolo and Cornelius Coriander may not be taken seriously as realistic characters.

Fail to do your research! You don’t want to realize you’ve chosen the wrong name after your book is already in print. You also don’t want to learn suddenly that a similar book character (or movie character, or even real-live person) has the same name. To save yourself embarrassment, do an Internet search for any character name you’re toying with before bestowing it upon a character in your book.

And if you’re STILL INDECISIVE… 

Use a reference source. Head over to BabyNames.com for a comprehensive list that includes statistics, history, and definitions. You’ll find the perfect names for your characters in no time.

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How do you find names for your characters? 

About the Author: Writer’s Relief is a highly recommended author’s submission service. We assist writers with preparing their submissions and researching the best markets. We have a service for every budget, as well as a free e-publication for writers, Submit Write Now! Visit our site today to learn more.

If you’re struggling with finding names or just want to have a resource on-hand for naming characters, check out Pen Name by Jennifer Blanchard. Not only is this book great for finding your perfect pen name, but it doubles as a resource for naming characters too.

Image courtesy of Jack Dorsey
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