With great power comes great responsibility. And there is perhaps no greater power (or responsibility) than bestowing a name upon another.
I don’t have any tiny humans of my own, but by watching others go through this process, I’ve become even more aware that naming someone is a huge deal. You have to think about what the name means and what it says to others and if it’s easy to pronounce or invites bias in someone. Is it too obscure or too common? How will it be interpreted someday when your child is grown up and their name appears at the top of a resume? There are a zillion considerations.
I’m a Sara and I was born in the 1980s, the height of popularity for my name. It’s probably one of the most common girl names given in the entire decade. But Sara suits me, somehow. I feel that my name and my personality match. I honestly believe that my parents named me well. And I want that same feeling for my characters. Here’s how I go about accomplishing that.
Naming your characters is almost as important as naming a human. For me, it’s one of the most agonizing parts of the character development process.
I don’t necessarily worry about the same issues that future moms and dads do when it comes to names, but I do use a lot of the same resources. Lots of expecting moms and dads comb through baby name sites and articles. I do the same thing for my characters. If I’m writing historical fiction, I often comb through the Social Security Administration and look at popular surnames and first names to help fill out my characters identities.
A few things to think about when you’re naming your characters:
- Don’t have characters with similar names in the same story. It’s confusing. (This seems to be in opposition to people naming kids who sometimes choose a naming convention like: all children have a name that starts with the same letter)
- Does your character’s name fit their personality? (Hard to accomplish when you name someone before he or she leaves the womb – or even soon after. There’s no telling what they will be like)
- Will people be able to pronounce it? (Probably should be a consideration, but isn’t always a high priority for new parents)
Research in any writing project is key. And as I mention above, doing name research is an important part of the character development process. But sometimes ideas and lessons come out of everyday life experiences.
I had lunch last week with the first of my NightWind beta readers. Over the course of our conversation, we started talking about names. Our main topic of conversation was the significance (or insignificance) of pronunciations. The issue of how a name is pronounced is very common in fiction, particularly in Fantasy as the names tend to be more outlandish and unique. And everyone has a different opinion about how this should be addressed.
One of my fellow writer friends said she tells people to pronounce it however they read it in their heads. It’s their story now and there’s no wrong way to pronounce it. My beta reader and I, on the other hand, joked around about all the names we’d read over the years and had no clue how to pronounce. We even came up with a list of names that we’d read and didn’t immediately know how to pronounce, or in my case, had to be corrected by others. Here are a couple that came up in our conversation:
- Matthias from the Redwall books. I always thought it was Math-ee-is. Someone corrected me in middle school and explained it was Muh-thigh-is.
- Hermione from Harry Potter. For a while, I kept calling her Her-me-own-ee in my head. Later, I learned that this wasn’t correct.
There’s a lot to keep in mind as you go through the character-development process. But, naming your characters is probably one of the most important. Just think about yourself. Your name is a solid part of your identity. It’s part of that first impression you give as you always share your name when meeting someone new. And, no matter whether you buy into the whole ‘what your name means’ thing, it still influences who you are in some way. It’s the same for your characters. So, remember to name your characters with the same sort of care and intention that you would reserve for naming a baby. Your characters and your readers will thank you for it!