The Write Side of Life: What’s in A Name?

So, when writing fiction, your characters are going to need names right? Of course they are, not only does it give you the single most essential piece info on who they are but they are also pretty damn useful for distinguishing who is doing what in your story.

With that mind and also thinking about the fact that you, dear reader and I both have names,  and that we call other people by their names; you would think it would be pretty damn easy to come up with some decent names for my characters, right?

WRONG!!!

You see, the big thing for me when thinking trying to come up with a character name (and I’m sure this is true for other authors out there) is that the name I craft have some meaning behind it. Sure, I could just buy the ‘ Penguin’s Big Book of Futuristic/ Fantastical Baby Names’ (BTW I’m pretty sure that ain’t a real book and I just made it up. Any prospective parents out there, don’t go trawling Amazon for it. Just pick ’em from Game of Thrones instead!) but then I would just be assigning my characters arbitrary names. Sure they may read well and roll off the tongue but, for me at least, a character name should be so much than that.

If done well a good character name can give so much more information about who that character is. You can use regional names to give a clue as to where your character is from, or their lineage; You can use historical names to again give the character some lineage but also as a clue to what type of person they are; Certain names carry very obvious meanings to them which you can use to speak volumes about your character. If you are writing particular kinds of Sci-fi and Fantasy you can go off the rails and make-up crazy sounding names that can, if done well, add to the world building of that story.

And this is where I tend to struggle. Einstein once defined stupidity as the act of repeating the same action over and over again but expecting different results each time. And that is what coming up with names can sometimes be like for me. As I predominately write Sci-fi and Fantasy stories, I do have the luxury of being able to make up completely new names but this is also where the problems arise. I, like Einstein’s stupid person,  come up with a name, think it’s great, write it down and immediately think ‘Man, that sucks’: Then lather, rinse, repeat until I’m ready to throw my computer out of the window.

Now, if your still reading, you may be wondering how I get any writing done. Well I do actually come up with names, eventually. Here’s how I do it:

Research

If I’m wanting to use an existing name, the first thing I do is Google it. I check out where the name originally came from and what meanings it has attached to it. This way I can make sure that it fits to how I want to portray that character and not contradict with who they are. It’s also a useful thing to do if you are using regional names. For example, you don’t want to assign a name to your Chinese character only to find out it’s a Japanese name.

Say It Loud

This may sound crazy but it’s true. I do this both with existing names and names that I’m making up. If the name sounds right when spoken, if it just rolls off the tongue, then the chances are it will look good written down too. Also, if the name sounds good it will be memorable, and everyone wants their characters to be memorable, don’t they?

Alliteration

Again, it may sound crazy but it is true. Try playing around with some alliteration when naming your characters. It can be a fun exercise and you might end up with something that stands out. Think of some the great characters Marvel have come up with who have alliterative names; Reed Richards, Victor Von Doom, Pepper Potts, Jessica Jones, Stephen Strange. I could go on but I won’t.

So there you have it, that’s why names are important to me and also how I come up with them.  The reason I have written this is because I’m currently banging my head against a wall trying to come up with a main character name for my current project. It may sound like a bit of a first world problem, and it probably is but hey we all need to vent.

If you’re having similar troubles, or have name suggestions that I can steal you think might inspire me, let me know in the comments below or through the usual social media gubbins.

Thanks for reading.

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