Hey everyone! Today I will be sharing a guest post with you by my friend, Amelia Cabot! Amelia won second place in the short contest last summer with her story, The Fault to be Forgiven. Now she returns to us with this wonderful article, How to Come Up with Names for Characters.
I know you all will enjoy these tips written by Amelia, so let’s go ahead and read her article!
How to Come Up With Names for Characters – 5 Tips
Ever sat there—wherever there is for you—and wondered what in the world you’re going to name your character? (A.k.a. spent twenty minutes racking your brain, searching the Internet, and squealing over names you liked while wondering why parents name their children the weird names that they do?)
(Seriously, one day, some people are going to have kids named after Stranger Things, famous YouTubers, and anime.)
But never fear! (Unless you’re fearing for the fact that children will be named after previously mentioned topics.) Here are five tips to get you started—and maybe finished—on picking good fictional character names.
1. Consider your character’s role.
Rule of thumb: you don’t need to waste time attempting to find a good name for a minor character that comes into the story about three times. You can stick to something simple, such as Jane or Lisa or Robert. (Apologies to all people whose names are Jane, Lisa, or Robert.) As long as it’s a decent name, you’re good to go.
On the other hand, some secondary characters might have specific roles that can attribute particular names to them. For example, if you have a grandmother who’s a secondary character, you’d want to deviate toward names that were popular in whatever century this grandmother was born in. Gertrude and Matilda are probably the top two names somebody thinks of for a grandmother.
But at the same time, you can come up with silly names within reason, particularly if you’re naming an animal. In the kids’ book series The Princess in Black, Princess Magnolia’s horse had one laughable name. It wasn’t Bonnie, or Charlie, or something cute like that. Do you know what that girl named her horse?
2. Consider your story’s genre and time frame.
I cannot emphasize the number of musts and all the fancy fonts I could use for this point. Please, for the sake of all the world, please do not use a name that doesn’t even exist in that era. You’re safe with using nearly any name for a character that’s in the 21st century, but you’re going to have to think harder if you have a character who’s in a previous century. If you have a male character in the 18th century, you wouldn’t want to name him Jayden or Kai or Ryder.
(Please don’t name an 18th-century dude after the leader of Paw Patrol.)
Reading literature that was written in the time frame of your genre can help you find names that you can safely use. So if the Internet isn’t giving you much help, turn to a novel (or two, or three, or several) set in that or a similar time frame/world.
3. Consider your character’s background.
Everything from the culture your character grew up in, to the century he is in, to whether he lives in a fantasy world or during a historic event matters. When I did a short story for an anthology, I set the story in West Berlin, Germany, during the 1940s. And I think you can pick up on what my MC needed: a German name that existed in the 1940s, preferably during the 1930s, since that would be when my character was born.
Another thing to keep in mind with characters from different countries is how much spelling you want to endure. Some names are absolutely lovely, but the pain that goes into typing their name out can be avoided. If you’re repeatedly baffled about where to put accent marks over letters or how to spell your character’s name, you might want to pick an easier name or figure out a decent nickname to use throughout the book. (Use with caution; your reader might forget the character’s real name entirely.)
Then there’s this lovely thing called personality, which makes the naming process a lot more fun than anticipated. Some names just scream personality overload, while others hint at characters that are more low-key than others. And other times, you can use a name to mean the exact opposite of its technical definition.
For instance, in Stars in the Grass by Ann Marie Stewart, Abby, the nine-year-old MC, knows a girl named Melody. When you think of that name, don’t you automatically associate said person with musical abilities?
That didn’t exactly happen to this Melody.
Apparently, she couldn’t sing a lick of music … and on top of that, Abby would intentionally sing “In My Heart There Rings a Melody” as loudly as possible whenever they had to sing it in her church’s choir.
Poor Melody refused to join the choir ever again.
4. Avoid having characters with names that start with the same letter.
This has both pros and cons. If you’re writing a standalone novel, you can maybe get away with using names that start with the same letter as long as you have distinctions between who’s who. I once read a story in which two characters had names that started with an ‘L,’ which caused confusion if the reader didn’t catch early on that one was the daughter and the other was a different character.
However, if you’re going to write a series that involves several characters (as in, you have to write everyone down on a sheet of paper just to recall whose friend is whose and who married who and who makes terrible life choices), try using characters with names that don’t start with the same letter. Otherwise, you’re setting your readers up for frustration, particularly if they’re reading when they’re tired and they start glazing over the story.
5. Simple is often best!
Let’s be real, fellow writers. If you could spend your precious time writing instead of getting lost down trails of names, you might as well use that time. Sometimes it’s okay to give your characters three-letter names or an old-fashioned name.
You can even ask other people for name suggestions, and they might be able to help you out. Or you might get some inspiration from family members or friends and use their names, just as long as you don’t get confused and make your character become the person you’ve named them after. And if that still doesn’t work?
Just pull up another name website.
And add to that already lengthy list of names parents shouldn’t be giving their kids.
Amelia Cabot is a sinner saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, homeschooler, and Christian fiction/poetry writer who has embraced the world of writing since she was six. She can typically be found in the corner of the living room at her desk, mostly due to the fact that she lives in an apartment and doesn’t use her room half of the time. Although she hasn’t had anything of her own published yet, she has dabbled in writing contests, and the Tell Me You Love Me anthology is the first official work she has been published in. When she’s not writing, she’s filming memories, snapping myriads of photos, puzzling over the enigmas her violin and piano hold, singing, delving into Spanish, observing the sky, or daydreaming about her characters and the never-ending drama they endure.