February 26, 2010

what's in a name?

Naming a character is like naming your child. Granted, I do not have any children of my own, but I imagine it runs along the same lines.

The name your character has is the name it will always have. It can become a staple. Think Elizabeth Bennett or Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." Both names are iconic and part of the culture surrounding the stories.

But how do you come up with a name that fits your characters?

In "The Writer's Little Helper," James V. Smith Jr. gives the following checklist for naming characters (page 176-177):
• Brainstorm a list of names before you begin your novel.
• Don't use names of real people. (Personal note: I named my goldfish after my dad. It was funny until I called my dad three days later and said, "Bruce died." Don't name your characters after people you know.)
• Avoid names that begin with the same letter.
• Avoid names that can be both male and female.
• Be wary of first last names.
• Don't overuse alliteration — first and last names beginning with the same letter.
• Don't use names that sound like half the people in the phone book.
• And don't use names that rhyme in the same story.
• Be wary of long names.
• Be conscious of names ending in -s.
• Don't be cute.
• Don't use a name twice.

I like the name checklist idea for some characters. For my protagonists, I feel I have to give more thought into their names. These are the characters who are like my children, and I they are something I want to be able to live with forever. As far as the other characters, I have no hesitation just drawing from a list. In fact, I think it is a great idea.

A resource I keep on hand is a baby naming book. I swiped it from my mom years ago and it sits on my reference shelf along with my stylebooks and dictionaries. I also just received two phonebooks at my home, and I like the idea of paging through those (I credit Mr. Smith with that idea).

Just Sunday I sat down and created a list of first and last names for men and women. We will see how I can put those to use with my stories.

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