“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet;” William Shakespeare.
I follow many writers’ blogs, and just today, I was reading the storyfix.com blog, which discussed five more mistakes that reveal a writer as a rookie. The blog referred to, what it calls,“The name game.” How rookies give their characters names that sound too much alike or pick names that it says are “unpronounceable, unfamiliar and difficult to remember.” It made me think about the process that I use to choose the names for my characters and places.
I find the names of characters, places, and things to be one of the most important parts in building a story, so I take it a step further; I heavily research all my names. I have several name books in my library collection, although with the Internet library, there is an even vaster access to names, their meanings, and their origins.
Depending of course what genre I’m writing in, it will determine the flexibility in my choice of names. Regardless of what the genre may be, the name must suit not only the character but also its gender, the time-period of the story, and the location of the story.
Names are terms that distinguish people, places, and things from other people, places, and things. I look at a name as being more of a descriptive label, something that defines a person, place, or thing.
When I go about picking a name for a character, I fly through meanings of names to find one that defines my character. Then I study the name and ask myself these five questions:
Does it suit my character?
This is probably, by far, the most important factor that I take into consideration when picking a name, although the least rational one. For me, names provoke certain feelings and images. Some names sound more masculine or feminine; others more timid or bold, or even good or evil. I pick a name that sounds like the personality of the character.
Is it easy enough to pronounce?
I write predominately fantasy, so I have more flexibility to pick distinctive names, but I still try to pick names that are easier to pronounce so the reader doesn’t struggle with remembering the name and can enjoy the story.
Does it fit the time-period of the story?
A name needs to fit the period that it is being used in. There are newer names and older names. Some names were not around in certain times, so I make sure to date my names and pick them accordingly.
Does it suit the gender of the character?
Is the name suitable for the gender of my character? Although Taffy is a man’s name in Welsh, in most areas, it is a more common feminine name. I would not pick this name for an authoritative masculine-type hero.
Does it suit the character’s heritage?
If I’m writing a story about a Spanish conquistador, it would be unrealistic for me to use a Russian name like Yuri for my Spanish hero.
There are, of course, always exceptions to the rules, which depend on my storyline, but for the most part, the name I choose reflects the total character and his journey.
In all, picking names is a personal preference of the writer, but I feel that following these guidelines helps me to make the chosen names more interesting, suitable, and sensible to the story line.