What’s in a name? So very much.
In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet asks, “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” So many people misinterpret the wherefore as “where are you?” But in fact, she’s asking WHY. Why are you Romeo? She’s lamenting their status as star-crossed. If he hadn’t been a Montague or she not a Capulet, we might have had a completely different story. See? Names matter.
As a writer, I am obsessed with creating names, researching them, picking out the perfect name for a character. But how do you know what the best choice is for your character? Names have origin stories, special meanings in different cultures, and suggest something about your character. V names, for example, always slide towards the villainous in my book. V is a very harsh letter and there’s something slippery about a character with a v name. Why? I couldn’t tell you. It’s probably just my relationship with words and how I choose to interpret them.
Choosing a name is a very important step in the character creation process. Names reflect a character’s role, his or her personality and more. And it most certainly should not live in opposition to it. A bold hero/heroine needs a bold name.
With the incessant obsession with babies, the internet is chock full of useful websites and tools for us writers. Someone might mistake me for being baby obsessed given my avid appreciation for such websites. If you consider my books to be my babies, then you’d be right. 🙂 Now, as a caveat, I wouldn’t rely solely on these tools for coming up with names for characters, but it’s a good place to start! Here are a few of my favorites:
Baby Name Genie – This one is really fun because if you have a last name picked out already, you can put that info in and ask for first names or middle names and you can specify the gender. Some of the stuff you get is kinda wacky. But it’s fun and gets your imagination going.
Babynames.com – This website says that naming your baby is the most important choice you can make. I wonder how many writers feel the same way about their characters? Probably all of us! 🙂 I love playing with the etymology and meaning of a name when it comes to selecting one for a character.
Fantasy Name Generator – Fantasy Name Generator is a hugely comprehensive tool. You can generate names for all sorts of fantasy characters: from Orcs to humans, elves and dwarves. I don’t know that I’ve ever actually used a name in its entirety from this site, but it’s another great tool for generating ideas. I think it even will help you name locations if you’re so inclined.
Social Security Administration – The last trick in my arsenal is using the Social Security Administration. If you’re looking to write historical fiction, this is a fabulous resource for researching popular names from certain time periods. This was my tool of choice while I was writing The Green Lady in 2015/2016.
So where did all this talk about names come from? One of my beta readers came to me after reading Withered World and strongly urged me to change the name of one of my characters. You see, the male lead is named Kale. I met a real human named Kale once and thought it was weird/out there/cool and I really wanted to name a character that. So, I kinda forced the name on the character. My beta reader thought his name was distracting. So, back to the drawing board I went in search of a good male lead name that wasn’t too weird.
Choosing names is such a strange balance. Unique, intriguing, but not too complicated. It cannot detract from the story, but must also offer something interesting. A lot of my characters changed names in this project; and that’s not typical for me.
A big trend in Dystopian literature, particularly in YA stories too, is a symbolic sort of name transition. The characters embrace a new identity or have a nickname (Think Divergent or Mortal Instruments). I’m still working through my analysis of such things. But, I know that I want to differentiate myself by having an interesting name without falling into this trope.
Naming your characters is a big step, on par with naming your children (at least that’s what I imagine!). What do you look for when you are in the naming stage? What tools are essential as you move through the character development process? Please feel free to share your tips/tricks in the comments!