Names are funny things. Sometimes they come to you, a bolt of lightning sizzling between your eyes and into your brain – “Her name is HANNAH! Yes! That’s it!”
Other times, not so much.
(It’s sad when you get halfway through the book and still feel something is off about a character. Could it be because you’ve tagged them with the “working title” of Curmudgeon or Mary Sue?)
Not to mention when you get caught using the derivative of the same name over and over. Els (the upcoming book, Freya’s Tears,) Elsibet (World of Warcraft toon) and Elisibet (the Sanguire series) tend to get a lot of attention from me, as do Kenna (future project, Kou Itten) and Jenna (the Sanguire series again.)
It’s easier to break the habit when writing about other places and times. Googling English-translated websites from the Eastern bloc countries gave me Bertrada Nijmege (Sanguire.)
Likewise, Anpo Wi Ile (from Tiopa Ki Lakota) literally means the Sun is burning at dawn. If you were to translate Anpo’s name into English, it would be Dawn.
With Azrael, I only knew her by her nickname – the Angel of Death. Her body slave, Ursula, came into being because T. Novan once cataloged all the uber fics and announced that there had never been an uber fanfiction main character with a name starting with “u”.
Name Game – 4 Techniques
* 1 – Phone Books
Not that you can find many pay phones OR phone books these days. Back in the dark ages (you know…when they had rotary phones…) I’d throw open a phone book and stab a finger down on the page. Peering at my selection, I’d decide whether or not to keep it.
Milicent? Ummm… Let’s try that again, shall we?
* 2 – Point & Click
As mentioned above, if I know a character’s ethnicity is out of the ordinary, I like to go to websites that reflect the culture. A Lakota language site, a Hungarian newspaper, an Indian website discussing Hinduism. With some judicial clicking (and the occasional translation) you can find some interesting names to use for your characters.
* 3 – Baby Naming Websites
I think the majority of writers working on the computer and web utilize these tools. There are even sites dedicated to different ethnic groups, too! More bang for your buck!
If you’re looking for a random name for a supporting character, try the Random Name Generator.
And the standard Baby Names site.
Writing a fantasy or science fiction novel? Try out the Seventh Sanctum. They have name generators for everything from pirates to elves.
* 4 – Combinations
The most interesting technique I’ve used upon occasion is this one. Bring a person to mind, first and last name. For this exercise, I’m using Leonard McCoy (because I’m a Trek geek.)
Take the first three letters of the first name and the last three letters of the last name. Mash ‘em together – Leocoy.
It works really well in the fantasy genre, especially for throw-away characters that need a quick name for believability.
(And there’s nothing saying you can’t edit Leocoy into something else – Leoco, Leocoi, Leco… Whatever works.)
* Bonus – Friends & Family
Plenty of people hear that I’m a writer and ask if I can name a character after them. I usually agree and jot down a note about it. If I have a Work In Progress with a throwaway character, I’ll describe it to the person. Chances are great they’ll be pleased as punch about it.
When the book becomes published, I sign a copy and give it to the person. They’re immortalized in print, and I’ve made someone happy. It all works!
Those are my four Go-To ways of creating character names, from the all-important main characters down to the snot-nosed brat that just picked your MC’s pocket in the village market.
How do YOU Name Your Characters?
Have I missed a tip or trick? Have any suggestions? Writing is such a broad skill set, and I’m always interested in hearing how others work. Click below and leave a comment!