Naming Characters

Naming Characters

by JP McLean.

In his famous Romeo and Juliet soliloquy, Shakespeare asked, “What’s in a Name?”

 

Quite a lot, as it turns out. I don’t have children, so the only names I’ve bestowed are on my fictional characters and my dogs. Happily, my choices have yet to be challenged (at least by the dogs).

 

Still, it’s important to find a good fit between the character and the name you choose. A name invokes an image in a reader’s mind. The way the name is spelled, how it rolls off the tongue, how it looks visually on a page—all these things add nuance to the character.

 

There are many elements that influence a name choice: 

 

The era in which the story is set: Consider that Zeus and Apollo are now names reserved primarily for pets (the gods would not be pleased). The most popular names of any decade are readily available online.

 

The gender of the character, whether male, female, or gender variant: Consider Taylor, Charlie, Emerson.

 

The location within the country: If your characters are in the southern US, they may have uniquely southern names like Gunner and Knox, or Dixie and Hattie.

 

The personality of the character: Are they a no-nonsense one-syllable Jane or Bill, or a complicated three-syllable Abigail or Joshua? Is your character a wallflower or minor character you don’t want to draw attention to? Plain names such as June or Joe slide under the radar. If your character is the serious type, they may choose Judith over Judy, or Theodore over Teddy.

 

Age also plays a role. Younger characters might use a nickname, like Billy for William or Caddie for Caroline. Sometimes, nicknames stick throughout adulthood, and sometimes they’re used ironically: Stretch for a shorter person, Tiny for a larger person.

 

The entire cast of characters must be considered: Mix it up so the names don’t all start with the same few letters of the alphabet or aren’t all the same syllable length. 

 

To help readers differentiate between characters, it’s important the names don’t look or sound too much alike. As in Abe and Abigail. Or Emery and Emelynn (yeah, that was one of my mistakes—Emery’s name got changed to Avery).

 

Writers also need to consider the nationality of the characters. Does your cast reflect the mix of people you’d see in your neighbourhood? In the grocery stores and libraries? If not, fix it. You can find lists online of names by nationality.

 

A resource I use all the time is the local telephone book. The flimsy paper books aren’t as prevalent or thick as they once were, but they’re rich in interesting names. Best of all, these are the names of people of all nationalities who live in your neighbourhood.

 

The best part about finding the perfect name for your character is that the name does some of the work for you in defining the character’s role and personality. Names have connotations, so it’s important to make the most of them. And even if your fictional children hate the names you’ve given them, they’re not likely to disown you for your choices.

JP McLean’s latest release: ‘Blood Mark’

What if your lifelong curse is the only thing keeping you alive? Abandoned at birth, life has always been a battle for Jane Walker. She and her best friend, Sadie, spent years fighting to survive Vancouver’s cutthroat underbelly. That would have been tough enough without Jane’s mysterious afflictions: an intricate pattern of blood-red birthmarks that snake around her body and vivid, heart-wrenching nightmares that feel so real she wakes up screaming.

After she meets the first man who isn’t repulsed by her birthmarks, Jane thinks she might finally have a chance at happiness. Her belief seems confirmed as the birthmarks she’s spent her life so ashamed of magically begin to disappear. Yet, the quicker her scarlet marks vanish, the more lucid and disturbing Jane’s nightmares become—until it’s impossible to discern her dreams from reality, and Jane comes to a horrifying realization:

The nightmares that have plagued her since childhood are actually visions of real people being stalked by a deadly killer. And all this time, her birthmarks have been the only things protecting her from becoming his next victim.

Blood Mark is the first in a brand-new paranormal thriller series by JP McLean, author of The Gift Legacy series and whose writing has been described as “. . . deftly crafted, impressively original, and inherently compelling from first page to last.”
Available on Amazon.

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