What’s in a name?
What would it be if Edward’s name in Twilight was really Walter, which was an equally popular name the time he was born? Do you think people would have created Team Walter t-shirts? Maybe. But maybe not.
Character names not only give away character traits, but they help shape the character in the reader’s mind. And the better the character name, the more likely your reader is to remember it and possibly even connect with your character (or swoon over him if that’s your goal).
One of the most important things I like to think about when developing my character and their name together is what does the name say about them or even more importantly sometimes what does it not say about them (because describing what a character wishes their name would be could give more development than just stating the name their parents gave them):
- Why was the person named this? After a city, a dead relative, or a car?
- Is the person constantly referred to by their last name (as was my case growing up since I had a funny last name)?
- Do they prefer a middle name or a nickname because they dislike their real name?
- Do they always get called by their real name but long for someone to give them a nickname?
- Is their siblings name much cooler than there’s and they are constantly jealous about it?
Explaining why the character has a certain name or nickname really helps the person resonate with the reader in my opinion.
Almost all of my character names happen by accident. I just start thinking about a character and a name instantly pops in my head. Sometimes the name sticks. Sometimes it doesn’t. Other times I have to search for hours in a Baby Name book to get the right name, or search online--as is the case for the book I’m writing now since many of the characters are from different countries.
There are so many variables with names, and a lot of it comes down to gut and instinct.
Whenever I come up with a name, I use it for a few chapters. If it feels right, then I usually stick with it. If not, then I try out a new name.
Luckily, your characters don’t have to be stuck with the same name for life (or at least until your book is published) and when a better character name presents itself you can always change it up. The “replace all” feature comes in real handy at this point. Especially if you are like me and decide to change a character’s name once you are on page 200. Several times I’ve switched a character’s name only to keep calling them by the old name and decided I couldn’t see them as anything else but their original name, so I change it back.
But there’s nothing more satisfying then finding the perfect name for a character and I think all of us are constantly on the hunt for that!
--Emily, Miss Querylicious