What’s in a name?

Cover of Traditional Molvanian baby namesWhen I eventually quit my day job and become an internationally-recognised award-winning author, one of the first things I think I will struggle with is what to name my characters. After all, much like when you name your own children, or pets, this is a decision you will be living with for a very long time. Not only does a name have to fit the character, it has to be memorable (but not in a bad way), believable, spellable (for all the glowing reviews), not have hidden meanings or unfortunate initials; and perhaps most importantly (and unlike real life where you really can name your first-born after great-great-uncle Ethelred), NOT belong to (or sound even vaguely like) any of your friends or relations.

I have been known to throw a book down in disgust if a character’s name is too annoying. This mainly happens when reading old-style fantasy or science-fiction novels, but can strike at any time. It can also extend to names of places, imaginary animals, food-type things …  the list of possible naming offences goes on and on. If a name is too hard to pronounce (because we all say them out loud at least once while reading a book), or looks odd on the page, or is just too similar to something familiar, it becomes distracting rather than enhancing, and as mentioned above, can lead to book-throwing tantys.

I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to pick names and know you’ve got them right. There are lots of helpful (and not so helpful) books and websites out there, but they are a slippery slope to time-wasting, so if you ARE searching for that perfect name for your dashing and romantic male lead, be careful – in just 2 minutes on one name generator site I came up with:

  • Jeb Deneau – mysterious romantic cowboy with slightly foreign past.  I’m thinking dark hair, slightly too long, blowing in the prairie breezes, and a pair of piercing green eyes that have seen things I cannot imagine.
  • Morris Weems – nervous accountant who never leaves the house/office, except to buy expensive medication for his ailing and elderly pet dog Mr Wuffles.
  • Bernie Rub – a mob enforcer with a dark and violent history, but also with a heart of gold.  And an ex-stripper girlfriend.
  • Johnathan Holiday – a dapper gentleman, lean in stature, with a propensity for linen suits and cigarillos. I’m unsure whether Johnathan will turn out to be a bad guy or a good guy.

A fantasy novel name generator offered a table of 119 names, all of which ended in ‘TH’, and made me feel like my front teeth had been knocked out.  I’m thinking QuehonathUhonyfth and Cheendoith may have to wait a while for their story to be told.

A Dungeons and Dragons page offered me Brawler Ricdak Dragonskin the Bloodblade, which sounds great, but would be a real bugger to use when filling out forms.  And this great blog post led to all sorts of other time-wasting too.

If you want to go the traditional route and use an actual book, check out our wide range of naming books in the library.  And if you want to read about what real authors do, have a look at some of the author interviews we’ve done over the years – heaps of them talk about how they name their characters and places.

What’s your perfect character name? Have you actually changed your own name? And if you’re a real author, share your character-naming secrets with us, please!  Elvira Nawnart, Xyratis Firestomp and I would be more than grateful.

2 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. purplerulzpurplerulz 24 August 2013 / 11:02 am

    Yes names are always interesting in terms of making them fit the character. I recently got really distracted by a characters name in a stunning TV series ‘ Rectify’. The sister’s name was Amantha. Every time I heard it, I wanted to scream… Amanda!

  2. Gallivanta 24 August 2013 / 5:32 pm

    Heavens! How did we manage to name our babies before the advent of a name generator site?

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