What’s in a name?

Confession time…I have a lot of difficulty naming my characters. I have already written several posts in this blog about where i get my characters’ appearance, personality, and behaviour, but names are another kettle of fish.

Having created a person, hopefully a well-rounded personality that readers will relate to, how do you sum up that character in just a few words?

When it comes to naming fantasy characters, J. K. Rowling is a master. I probably don’t need to say much more on the subject, as her talent in this area is well known. Many of her character names demonstrate elements of their personality or hint at hidden parts of their life, for example the werewolf Remus Lupin (Remus being one of two brothers suckled by a wolf, and Lupin the French for wolf) or Sirius Black (named after the ‘dog star’ an allusion to his ability to turn into a large black dog at will).

While this is a stunning device for fantasy or sci-fi, it is less appropriate for other genres. After all, how often do you meet someone named ‘Remus’ or ‘Albus’ outside the wizarding world? Just think what kind of crap that kid would have had to endure at school…

A character’s name is a huge part of their identity. How often in life have you heard someone talked about, and formed a mental picture of them in your mind just from their name? A name (usually) evokes a few things instantly: gender or ethnicity for example. In some cases you may even imagine colouring, build or the type of personality, just from hearing the name and connecting it with other people you know with the same name. I’m not saying you’d always be right – I’m sure at one time or another we’ve all said, “Oh, you’re not nearly as X* as I imagined you’d be” – but that’s the way our minds work. (* X = tall, short, fat, thin, dark, fair, etc.)

If I’m looking for a name, my first step is to find a list of the most popular baby names for the year I imagine that character was born. Then I go through it and rule out all the names of people I know well, names that obviously don’t fit, and people I dislike (former school bullies, for example). After that it’s a case of mulling over what’s left, and trying it out in the character description until I find one I’m happy with.

Next comes the surname…well…I think I’ll save that one for next time!!

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