Characterization: Choosing a Name

When it comes time to choose names for your characters, there are plenty of strategies you might use: baby names books, Internet searches, random name generators, sitting in a crowded restaurant and writing down the first name you hear …

Most of these strategies are fine, especially for characters of secondary importance, but when it comes time to name your most important character(s), I would remind you of this important fact: Your character didn’t name himself. His/her parents did.

What does this mean? Well, for me it means that when I’m brainstorming a new idea and I just can’t call my main character MC anymore, then it’s time to start thinking about MC’s past, especially his or her parentage. Are they the kind of people who choose names that sound good? Would they name a child after a beloved friend or family member? Do they care about the meaning of a name? Were they high at the time and chose something that seemed hilarious but has been haunting the child ever since?

The answer to these questions could bear serious weight and import. Names are part of our core identity, and the origin of those names says something about where that identity began, even if just a little bit.

Cassandra Morgan Ursula Margaret Scot’s parents derived her many names from the names of powerful sorcerers and alchemists throughout history. They believed there is power in a name, in its length, its grandeur, and its namesakes. Cassie didn’t believe she lived up to the name, so she shortened it.

Authors of children’s books often have fun with alliteration, personification, and archetypes when choosing names. And that’s fine. Sometimes the story you’re telling is more of an allegory, in which case your names would reflect the style you’ve chosen.

But if you’re looking for realism in your characterization, then begin with the name – and know where it came from.

Posted in Tips for Writers.

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