Saturday, March 30, 2013

All In A Name

As writers, we have almost as difficult a task as a new parent. Only we have to do it about fifteen times a year, give or take.

Naming our characters.

How important is a name? Well, a name can set your story apart from the crowd. But you have to be careful, because if it’s too strange it can also alienate readers. Let’s face it. If they have to look at it five times whenever it’s mentioned and still can’t decide how it’s pronounced by the end of the book, then they’re not going to be fully devoted to the story, are they?

Plus, you’re not just talking about the main characters in the story. Many of the peripheral characters need names too. They can’t overpower the main character, but they have to be strong enough to stand out and carry that character wherever the story might lead.

So, how do you name your characters?

Thus far the process has been fairly automatic for me. I don’t have to toil over what name to think up next. Their names come to me in the conversations they have. It’s those initial scenes where a story captures my attention and makes me say “I need to write this one” where I first glimpse their voices. Often those voices are having conversations (with one another, not me, because that is a separate mental condition from writer-itis.) Sometimes the first name to pop into my head doesn’t sound right, but not to worry, as their conversations continue the names will be clearly present and when they stick in my head and in the scene, I know they’re right.

Since I usually don’t write down a single word of the story or ongoing dialog in my head until the idea has fully fermented, there’s no need to struggle over the name. It will come if I let them keep acting it out in my brain. Their name is as clear at their voice. Sometimes it might be common and comforting, other times unusual and bold, but it matches them and ties together who they are and who they will become over the course of the story.

Sometimes, though rarely, the name has been the first thing I know. I can see a name somewhere or hear one, and something clicks, a dialog starts and a character is born. Often the name I’ve seen or heard is not the same as my character’s either, it only inspired it in some way.

To make a long blog short, I really have no method to name my characters. I just know. Kind of like I just see them and hear them and tell their stories. Always the observer, seldom the director.


For all the writers out there, how do you name your characters? Do you ever change the names before you’re done? Or after based on feedback?

For all the readers, what’s in a name? Can a character’s name turn you off a book or draw you in? Do you like familiar or outlandish names?


Happy reading and writing to all as we usher in the Spring!

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