Sunday, June 10, 2012

What's in a Name?--Choosing the right names for your Characters

Probably the most important thing about creating characters for your novel is choosing a name that fits their personality. This can sometimes be stupidly easy, or blasted hard, depending on how stubborn the character is. I choose my names differently for every character. Sometimes I start out with a name I really like and I mould a character to fit the name. This is the easy way to do it, if this doesn't happen (and it rarely does) then here are some other tips that might help you.

I find names from all different sources; sometimes I even like to look through the character list in the back of my Complete Shakespeare where you can always find some very unique names. Another great source is 2,000 This is by far the best name site I have found (and you don't have to endure the pregnant woman adds or the pink and blue of baby name websites!) The best way I have found to find a character name for those stubborn people who seem like no name will ever fit them, is go to this site, find the country or the time period I am working with, and go through the list of names alphabetically, writing a list of all those that catch my fancy. Once I do that, I go over the list again and narrow it down. A lot of times, certain letters or sounds just will not work for a character. Your hero might not be an "A" person, he might be an "H" person or a "J" person. I don't really know how to explain this, but I have somewhat of a sixth sense when it comes to finding names. I say them out loud to myself and watch as my character shakes their head. When they finally seem to like one, you'll know, because it will click. I find that if the name sticks in your head and you start thinking of your character with that name on his little "Hello, my name is___" tag then this is probably the best bet for you. Another great way to find names is road names. I have named so many characters just by names I see for roads and town when traveling.

Sometimes you might have a name you love and really want to use it so you slap in onto a character in hopes that it will work out. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't, and when it doesn't, and your character is acting up and going out of character, then you might need to change the name. Another thing I like to do is play around with spelling. I get bored of normal names like John and Henry but if you like these names, you might like to consider spelling them differently. I like Jon myself, and one of my characters in my upcoming novel is named "Henridh" which is just a Gaelic spelling of "Henry". You might be having trouble with your "Kate", but if you change her name to "Cait" she might work out a lot better!

The best overall advice I can give on this is find names you like, something different and unique and things the reader will remember. Now the only problem is if you write historical fiction as I do, and you end up with three Johns and Williams. (Sigh) What is a writer to do?

Slainte, Hazel

Also, here's the results of the poll "Do you think eyepatches are dashing?" before I change it and put up another one:

4 said Yes
2 said NO
and 0 were undecided. Roster will be happy to know that more people think that they are dashing. ;)


  1. Hey!

    I found your blog on Goodreads. Really good suggestion to use the 20,000 names website. Whenever I can't think of a character's name, I usually just switch around the names of my dad's golf buddies or my old elementary school teachers. I think the website might give me a few more options, though.

    Great blog!

    Buck Tanner

  2. Hi Buck, glad to help. It is a really great site so I'm sure it will help you. Thanks for stopping by!