How to Name Characters

Writers often waste too much of their blood picking names for their characters. Even so, character names can be used to enhance the story. Here are some ways to pick meaningful character names.

Does your character hail from an identifiable ethnic background? Choose a name consistent with that background. Or if he was born of immigrant parents, combine a naturalized given name with an ethnic family name. And if you want to show the integration of extremes, name your character Manuel Garcia O’Kelly-Davis, as Robert Heinlein did in The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.

What year was your character born? Give him a name common to the culture in which he was raised at that time. Make sure this is all consistent with his upbringing.

Is your female character married? If she has a strong, independent personality, let her keep her maiden name. Or show a strong but compromising attitude by hyphenating her maiden and married names.

Is your male character the son or grandson of someone else in the story? Consider naming him after this person. This may say something about his parents or his family. This can also be used with female characters to great effect, as the Palladinos did with Lorelai Gilmore, daughter of Lorelai Gilmore, granddaughter to Lorelai Gilmore.

If your character is formal, have him prefer his full name. If he’s informal, have him prefer a nickname. (Or not.)

Each of these is important because it implies something about the character’s past or his personality. So, use these as a springboard for those ideas. Or alternatively, pick names based on these factors, after you’ve determined who your character is.

But there are a host of names that will do each job. Don’t sweat over exactly which one to pick. Don’t waste time deciding whether your character is Robert or William, Manu or Amol, Naoto or Taigo. Either will do.

-TimK

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