Ah characters. Where would be be without them? The embodiment of those voices in our heads. The proof that we really aren’t insane.
That’s what we’ll be talking about this week.
And I’d like to start with a simple question.
Character Names. How do we come up with them?
Yes. There’s the Baby Name Book routine. I’m sure this has worked wonders for many a writer, and I’ll probably have to break down and buy one eventually. But as yet, never needed one. I’ll tell you why in a moment.
There’s the, Historical Fiction route. Which is pretty self explanatory. Just make sure you do your research, certain names were never heard of in certain times. And it gets a bit boring, and hard to keep track of four men named Harry.
The “Meaningful Name” bit. Tread lightly with this one. You can’t be naming your Lead Female Chastity and having her be the town whore. It would be like fingernails on a chalkboard for the reader.
There’s the, what I lovingly refer to as, Scrabble Tile Method. Most often seen in science fiction or fantasy books. (I’m looking at you Weis) I swear the author reaches into a scrabble bag, pulls out three to five tiles adds a few vowels and Voila! A name! Who cares if no one can pronounce it! It’s fantasy! It’s a different planet! They’re a different Race! Foreign! All very good points..indeed. But. Let’s not go so far as to ostracise our readers. I’ve read many books where I have to skim over names, only catching the first few letters. Which works ok, until more than one character has that same first letter. Then it’s confusing.
You can put regional flair into your names. This is a great way of pulling culture, very subtly, into your work. Jacqueline Carey did this quite well with her Kushiel’s Dart series. She had the Roman element mixed with flares of French and a bit of Spanish. From the get go this set you up in a very subtle way for what type of book she was writing. Political intrigue (Roman), wrapped in a sultry (French) Magical (Spanish) world. Very subtle.
Or. You can name your characters whatever you damn well please and to hell with you all! Think of the success Charlaine Harris has had with Vampire Bill. A vampire. Named Bill. That is brilliant. Can’t you just IMAGINE the brain meltdown she had trying to come up with a name for him? You can’t tell me the first time you read that your brain didn’t go...”Huh. Bill. Really? HA!” But. It makes perfect sense.
There are online resources to try. Seventh Sanctum is one of many name generators.
What has worked for me, thus far, is wandering about cemeteries. Big. Old. OLD. Creepy. Cemeteries. The older the better. There are some wacky names in cemeteries. I keep a small journal with me. (Who doesn’t!) The ones I like the best I will try to say out loud as much as possible. Because, let’s be honest. You’re going to be with this character for a while. You’d best like their name. My parents are very fond of telling my sisters and I that we got our names by my Dad going out to the back yard and yelling a bunch of names at the top of his lungs. The ones they liked yelling, won. I suggest you do this with your character names.
Though, if they answer back...you could have problems.
Honestly. I’m not sure there is a surefire way to name a character. There is no secret formula. So I want to know. How do you name your characters?