Your characters are the foundation of your story; without them, you have nothing. People read to connect with characters, characters they can relate to, “people” who overcome insurmountable odds to accomplish their goals. Choosing the correct name for those populating your stories is important and should not be decided without due process.
Take my name, Rick. There are many variations—Richard, Eric, Ricky, Dick, Dickie. Depending on the name you choose, the person you write about will be different. For example, Jude Law’s character in The Talented Mr. Ripley is Dickie. To me that signifies the frivolity and care-free attitude of his life and his entire demeanor; how he is unable to settle down, rejects responsibility and lives off the allowance from his father. He would not be the same character if named Richard, a royal and regal name begetting leadership and strength. Jude Law’s character does not possess those qualities.
Think of character names of both famous and popular writing: Katniss in The Hunger Years trilogy (different character if named Katherine or Katie); Huckleberry Finn (would you be as interested if Twain had named his novel, The Adventures of Franklin Finn?); Pip from Dicken’s classic or Pipi Longstocking, for that matter.
Would you be excited by a movie staring Issur Danielovitch and Marion Mitchell Morrison? Probably not. Nor would you imagine they would star in a western, though Kirk Douglas and John Wayne would surely lead you to tales of the old west. Actors learned a long time ago that choosing the right name can make or break a career. William Robert Thornton alludes to a different persona than Billy Bob Thornton.
Character names are important, and when choosing them, consider the attributes and personality traits they infer. Jennie Darling is different than Jennifer Darling; Arthur Best or Artie Mortie.
Names of different nationalities are also important to consider. Penelope Perez rather than Penelope (who is called Penny) Hoogeland, Francine Wu or Franny O’Malley, Mohammed Smith or William Betencourt, the choices go on and on. Be cautious, though, that you do not unconsciously use a name of someone you know or someone known in the media. There have been lawsuits in cases of using a real person’s name and you do not want to be subpoenaed due to lack of judgment.
I’m often asked where I get my character’s names. Being that I write fantasy may differ from what you write, but there are several sources that can help all writers. Phone books are a good start, books on baby names, the news (careful not to pull a complete name from the headlines). Another good and often overlooked source of names, many of them unique, are the end credits of movies—I have found some fascinating names by not leaving a movie at The End.
I work in customer service, which is a fully planted field of interesting names. With notebook nearby, I jot down names of interest, always careful to write “real” next to a complete name so I do not inadvertently use it during the heat of writing.
Length of a name is important also, one or two syllables encouraging strength and forthrightness—the reason I chose Syjer as my protagonist in The Returning. Names can have a certain flowing nuance also, the reason I like the name of my female lead, Uleyha, which has a sing-song sound.
So when choosing a character’s name—including secondary characters—think of the impact the name will have on the character you create. A caution, though; refrain from naming a character Greg Creepy unless you have a very good reason, perhaps humor. Greg Creepy would not work for someone who haunts graveyards and lurks in the shadows.
So a challenge: do not turn off the movie at the end; instead, watch the names roll down the screen during the credits—you may find just the right name for the character burgeoning from your muse.
Now go create a few unforgettable names,
Rick (not Rich)
This Week’s Quote:
“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
― William Faulkner
This Week’s Links:
Free Online Course: How Writer’s Write Poetry
Online Fantasy/SF Conference and Workshops (cost involved)
Fantasy/SF Critiques and Help (cost involved)