Monday, November 26, 2012

What’s In A Name?


When your parents gave you your name, they probably didn’t open a baby book, close their eyes and point, and pick the name their fingers landed on. In fact, it’s likely that there’s a reason behind the name you were given. I.E., they liked it the way it sounded, they liked what it means, another member of the family had it, etc.

The same holds true for naming our characters. More so, actually, because we authors have more insight into what kind of people our characters are. Our parents didn’t know who we were going to be when they named us because we were still babies. But authors get to look at the character as a whole person, and we have the opportunity to make the name match the personality.

I’ve seen writers do the random baby book thing, and, to me, that makes it seems like they don’t care enough about this character to put any thought into choosing a name. If they don’t care, then why should I care? However, if they take the time to figure out who this person really is and then choose a name that reflects that personality, it shows. I can’t write a single word of my story until I know my main character well enough to name him/her. Once I have that, then his/her personality has an easier time shining through.

I probably spend an inordinate amount of time choosing character names, but, to me, it’s worth it. It’s part of my world-building and structuring of the story.

Baby name books are too tedious for me to use, but I’ve found a few websites that are very useful. My favorite is Behind The Name. The database of names on this site is enormous, and it’s searchable. You can search by name or you can search by the meaning of the name. The meanings often include a history of the name and people who’ve carried it. They also have a site for surnames.

After I have narrowed the name choices down to a handful, I double check the meanings on these sites.

Sometimes sites will have different meanings for the same name, and I like to make sure I’m taking all of that into account. So, this is why I cross-check everything. Once I’m done, I’m 110% sure I’ve chosen the best possible name for my characters.

How do you choose your characters’ names? Do you have a favorite site or book for researching names?

7 comments:

Karen Wojcik Berner said...

Hi. Visiting from SheWrites. Great blog.

I use an old baby names book that I have had since I was pregnant with my first, more than 18 years ago. I also use several of the online sites you listed. They are great resources.

Lexa Cain said...

I was named after two great-grandmothers. I totally agree that names are important, and I spend lots of time deciding on the names of my characters and villains.
Great post! :-)

Kelly Hashway said...

My characters come to me named. I'm so grateful for that. It's like meeting a new friend.

Diane Carlisle said...

I pick names I think will be easy to remember. :)

Botanist said...

Oh yes! Names are important to me. Some arrive easily, some take time to settle on. I usually play around with sounds in my head - especially the made-up ones in my far-future world.

The only thing I regularly check is to do a Google search to make sure the name doesn't already have some unwanted associations.

Mirka Breen said...

Like Kelly Hashway, I think my characters name themselves. When they don't, I know the story's in trouble...

michelleziegler said...

My characters name themselves also... just like those above. But I need baby names because my son on the way is not giving me his name so easy! Thanks for the information.