I have always had a love of baby name books. I used to have fun flipping through them and finding the most unusual names. Now that I’m a writer, I have a great excuse for pawing through name websites and baby name lists! 🙂 I really enjoy picking out the perfect name for a character. Of course, not every random name that I come across is going to be “The Perfect Name.” So, here are a few of the things I’ve learned about character names and naming characters.
1. Names that sound alike
It is always really annoying to the reader when character names sound alike. It makes it hard to figure out who is who, especially if the characters with the alike names know each other. One example I can think of is Sauron and Saruman from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Because of all the similar letters and sounds, it makes it really hard to remember who is Sauron and who is Saruman. (My mom still can’t keep them straight! :)) Another example of this is the brothers, Boromir and Faramir, again from The Lord of the Rings. I like the idea of matching names for the brothers, but in practice it made it confusing. (So that no Tolkien fans are too mad at me, I think Tolkien created some beautiful names and did a wonderful job matching names to the characters.)
2. Names that end in “s”
I am very guilty of this one! In my novel,The Last Four, I have many characters with names that end in “s”. At least three characters, Meris, Hays, and a main character, Tytus, all end in “s.” The reason this is bad is that it’s not easy to do possessives on names ending in “s.” In a normal name, say Lexi (another main character in my book), it’s very simple. Lexi. Lexi’s. When it comes to Tytus, it gets harder. Is it Tytus’s? Tytus’? While it’s not impossible to figure out (with all my character names ending in “s”, I think I finally have it down), it does make it a lot harder, so it is best to avoid ending in “s” names when possible.
3. Strange sounding names
This one is more a trap for Fantasy and Sci-Fi authors. When writing about exotic places and worlds, naturally an exotic name is needed. A lot of times these names are a little too exotic. If you name your character Bonbonnogopotato (my apologies to anyone who has this name) or even something half as strange, it’s going to be really hard for the reader to attach himself to him or her not to mention hard to read. An author who didn’t fall into this trap is Brian Jacques, who created the Redwall series. Rakkety Tam is the main character of the book of the same name, and Tam, as he is called in the book, has an unusual name, but not enough to be unpronounceable or to turn you off from the character.
4. Names of the times
If you are writing a book set in a different time, make sure the names match the times. If I were writing a historical fiction novel set in 19th century London, I would pick a name from 19th century London. Or if my book were set in the future, I would pick a name that was more “out there.” Ray Bradbury’s, Fahrenheit 451, is guilty of this. Guy Montag’s wife is named Mildred, which is a very old-fashioned name, but the world Mildred lives in is suppose to be the future. It makes the book seem set back in a dystopian version of the 1950’s instead of an undated time of the near future.
5. Names that everyone else has
If you’ve read a name a lot in other’s work, then don’t use the name. If you name your main character Scarlett, readers are bound to think of Gone with the Wind‘s Scarlett O’Hara, even if your Scarlett is totally different. Even if the name you want to use isn’t in a famous novel, but is used a lot in your chosen genre or you’ve heard it a lot, it’s best to steer clear. That way the reader knows your character is different than all the others floating around. In teen Christian novels, it seems like the choice of name for girls is Ashley. I don’t know why, but at least two book series I’ve read, Sigmund Brouwer’s The Robot Wars and Chris Fabry’s Red Rock Mysteries, have had an Ashley as a main character.
One more name tip – I’ve started keeping a list of names in my phone for all the neat names that I run across. It might be that the cool name I heard at the grocery store could become my next character!