For the past few months, I’ve been following author Ryan Lanz on Twitter. I especially enjoy his blog, A Writer’s Path, which covers a wide range of writing-related topics. Ryan has generously allowed me to share his post on naming characters with our readers.
A common question I hear tossed about is how to create character names. Some writers find this simple, and yet others struggle with naming every single one, particularly concerning the main cast.
In this post, we’ll talk about tricks and tips for creating character names, and perhaps we’ll bring some ease to the process.
What’s in a name?
Before we go much further, let’s consider why a name is important. I’m sure some of you are asking the screen right now, “Why does it matter?” This may seem trivial at first, but as we continue, I’m sure you’ll see how even the very sound of a name impacts how your reader views the character. Sounds crazy, right?
Your name is important because that is essentially you. It’s a form of the very essence of you and what makes you unique from everyone else. Theoretically, nobody has your exact name (if you toss in your last name and perhaps a few middle ones). So, your name reflects you.
Let’s test the above theory. I’m going to rattle off some names, and by the end, think aloud (or tell the screen, although the screen may not respond back) what impression you get from the character. To be fair, I’ll make an attempt at using a varied background, as well as including some fantasy names.
- Ravid, Peter, Dorsi, Sarah, Rose, Han, Faraj, Suri, Sophie, Pai, Luisa, and Alexi.
- Amichai, Misaki, Victor, Axelle, Braxton, Vladlen, Roddix, Padraig, Emmerich, and Chikelu.
So! What impression did you get from each set of names? What assumptions did you draw about group one compared to group two? Did one group give you a hero feeling, whereas the other gave you a villain feeling? Protagonist vs. antagonist? Sympathetic vs. non-sympathetic?
If you’re looking for the answers to the test, there are none. I only consciously followed two methods with the two groups. So, if you felt an opposing reaction to each group, then you are proving the aforementioned point of how even just the sound of the name can paint a picture in your mind of what you expect out of the character.
Here are the two methods I used: the second group has, on average, more hard-sounding consonants and are slightly longer. Anything else you generated was drafted from your own imagination.
The above was not meant to be a representation of any hard-fast rules, but merely an exercise to get you thinking. I have noticed, however, that the recent books I have read often make the protagonist’s name shorter, sounding lighter on the tongue (less hard-sounding consonants). It’s no secret that villains often have harsher sounding names.
Creating Character Names
This is a skill that comes more naturally to some people than others. Personally, I don’t struggle too much in this category. What I do is mull a character over in my mind, and a name floats to the surface of my subconscious. For a lot of writers, this method doesn’t work at all. So here are a few tips for generating your own:
Observe the people around you: model your character names around people you know, although I advise to change a few letters to make it less obvious. For example, Joan can become Joine.
Use a name generator online: there are multiple websites for baby names. Another website I have used before is behindthename.com. What’s nice about that website is that you can pick the type of flavor/nationality you want.
- Model the name after a character attribute (wordplay): if I say the name Nicity, you think of someone nice, don’t you? Or how about the name Brutus or Honori? I have named several characters by modeling them after the attribute I want the reader to associate with that character.
- This is a fringe suggestion, but if you’re writing a far-out science fiction or fantasy book, you could create a culture where deciding diverse names is non-applicable. You could make all the character names as numbers, or by what day they were born on, or by the profession that society has chosen for them at birth.
- Watch movie credits: while most people ignore the credits, it’s also a great way to find unique names. Of course, you won’t want to copy them verbatim, but they can give you some nice ideas.
Whatever you name your characters, the key thing is that they have to sound right to you. No matter what, some readers will like the names and some won’t, but you’re the one who has to live with them for the next __ months/years while you write the darn thing. If your book/story becomes successful, you’ll be repeating the names for the rest of your life, so pick ones that sit well with you.
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The above names are created randomly and are intended to be fictional. If you have one of the above names, please understand that it’s not my intent to reflect your name in a certain light, merely to allow people to react to how the name appeals to them.
What’s your method on naming characters?
UNKNOWN SENDER [Applebury Press – June 2015]
Jessica’s world revolves around studying at college and affording prepackaged meals, which leaves little time for socializing. In fact, she is quite content without being noticed, which only makes the attention of a mystery texter all the more unwanted.
She isn’t unfamiliar with strange advances, but this is something entirely different. This person knows things about her. Things beyond just an average stalker.
Even after all that, Jessica would be much more content to forget than discover who is chasing her, electronically or otherwise. Eventually, she finds out that she can’t outrun her past.”
Bio: Ryan Lanz was born and raised on the island of Oahu in Hawaii until he was a teenager and then lived in California for a time. He enjoyed a brief experience with film before becoming involved in the performing arts, touring with a music performance group as a vocalist to a dozen countries on three continents over the length of five years.
His first published work was Unknown Sender, and he looks forward to many more in a variety of genres.
- How to Defeat Your Writer’s Block by Ryan Lanz
- Let Your Readers Think For Themselves – by Ryan Lanz
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for February 20-24, 2012