Thinking about Character Names

August 4, 2011

I’ve been rereading my story which was published last week (and isn’t that a wonderful thing to be able to say!). In it there are two main characters – Arthur, and his granddaughter, Eleanor. Only in my version Eleanor was called Ellie.

It is a small change and does not affect the the plot in anyway but I think it is an interesting change and I had to think about why they made the change and what the effect of it is on the story. The story is written from the point of view of the Grandfather, Arthur and by using a more formal name for his granddaughter shows his more formal way of thinking.

I have to admit I do have trouble coming up with names for characters – there are some good site for this from baby name sites like http://www.babynames.co.uk/, sites that allow you to find out the meaning of your surname like http://surnames.behindthename.com/, which is useful as it also give the country of origin for some of the surnames  to the slightly more fun http://www.seventhsanctum.com/index-name.php which lets you generate random character names for everything from a general name to a dark elf name.

But despite all this I still sometimes get it wrong. There are a few useful hints I have picked up over time.

  • Don’t have all your names sounding or looking the same, for example having characters called Sally and Sully could lead to confusion in your reader.
  • Don’t make them exotic unless that is the type of character you are going for and it is appropriate for the genre you are writing in. Ralbatariel might sound interesting but as a writer it is tricky to spell correctly and as a reader I wouldn’t know how to pronounce it.
  • Make sure the name is appropriate for the time period that your story is set. Names go in and out of fashion just as much as clothes.
  • All names have meaning – some more obvious than others. Think about how the name reflects the character or is in opposition to it.
  • Choose a name that you are happy to type lots and lots of times, especially if it is a long story.

When choosing names you also have to consider how the other characters would address that person. Do they need a nickname, and if so would everyone use it. This is what I got wrong with Ellie in my story. Her grandfather was not the type of character to use a nickname so by changing it to Eleanor it better reveals his old fashioned character.


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