Naming your characters

Here are some of my thoughts on the matter of namegiving. I hope it will be of some use to others out there.

I would love to hear some of yours too 🙂

When writing Reborn, I spent a lot of time researching names, their origin, and their meaning; to make the name, and the character, truly become one. I discarded a few names along the way, simply because it didn’t feel right. Some of the names I’ve made up, but even those names derive from meaning. They are tweaked, rearranged or blended with different names, though all true to its origin.tja 005 (original)

When deciding on a name for your character, I believe there are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Don’t mainstream it. You don’t want it to sound too generic, unless it is required of the character, which it very well might be. Allow the character’s history, culture, and complexity (or lack there of), guide you. However, you don’t want it to be too easily recognized as belonging to someone else’s character. You definitely don’t want to copy, say Gandalf, and give the name to a wizard in your story. Doing so would most definitely make the book loose its credibility, and you will have lost all the readers you might have had if you had only chosen a different name – And btw, in this context, naming your wizard Galf, Gundulf, Grandelf, or anything similar is equally destructive.

On the other hand, names like Isengard have an origin, and a place in history, which means you might end up using something similar to name a character (or a place) because of the name’s meaning (Isengard = ice+farm 😉 or something like that…). Just keep in mind that your reader, if a fantasy-loving-lotr-fan like myself, might take offense or simply draw too many connections to previous works that they have read.
– Christopher Paolini is one of the authors who have been critiqued for using too many names similar to those from lotr, and hence there are those who boycott his works. (Personally: I´m a huge fan of Eragon and the rest of the series. Of the books, not the film! Maybe because some of it reminds me of Lotr? If so, then kudos!)

2. Don’t make supernames. In other words don’t make the name too difficult! It has to be readable. The reader has to at least interpret the way it’s supposed to be pronounced. If the reader struggles every time the name pops up, it takes away their attention to the story. Also, if the name sounds so foreign it is difficult to remember, you might want to consider if it’s beneficial for the story. – possibly come up with a new one? But, make sure the name fits your character! If one of your characters is extremely weird and awkward, and maybe has a family from Mars, then an odd name with awkward pronunciation might actually fit …

3. Don’t rush it. Your characters name is an important part of your character. It has to suit them. The name should point to their identity, and where they come from. If the name is a bad fit, your reader might get confused, no matter how much you like the way the name reads on its own. Also, you want to know your characters name early on, preferably when you´re working on your plot, before you’ve started writing – for practical reasons – Simply to avoid a lot of work later on, when you decide the name you chose in a hurry wasn’t the right fit after all. Autocorrect doesn’t always do the trick here.

4. Don’t Donald Duck it. If your character wields, say fire (as one of my characters does), don’t name him fire or something that sounds the same. Name him something that originates from heat, or some other synonyme. Then make sure the name fits the place he is from. In Reborn, I have chosen names that originate from old norse names for one land in my world, and latin or greek for another. Too obvious, and you end up making your character comical, hence the Donald Duck referance (Unless you want comical of course). Subtle, but with a distinct purpose makes the name – and therefore your character, believable! I have three characters with names derived from meaning fire/flames – Kenith , Archenon and Pyralis. One more tip is to make sure that the name fits geographically – in fantasy as in the actual world, different societies favor different sounding names …

5. Like the name. You need to like the name you´ve chosen. Not because it’s beautiful, but because it fits your character. If you read through your manuscript, and you keep stopping at the mention of a particular character, or you think your character is missing something, try changing your characters name and see what happens… Choosing a name you actually like will make the entire process easier.

 

– These tips apply firstly to the fantasy-writer, but I think it applies to a wide variety of style and genre, with obvious exceptions.

Good luck finding the right fit for your characters!

How do you choose you character’s name? Please leave a comment 🙂

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About linntesli

I am a Norwegian writer, author of the Reborn series, and a social worker. I love to write, and it has been a passion of mine ever since I knew how to put pen to paper. I hope my love of magic and make-believe will touch the spirit of others out there, who share my passion for fantasy, or just the need to read :)
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2 Responses to Naming your characters

  1. This is a nice write-up Lynn, thank you! The “Don’t rush it” and “Like the name” are very valid and I think they are the ones that trip us up the most; we have to except sometimes that characters will name themselves as we write them.

    As you asked to hear others thoughts on the subject, here is a link to my author’s blog where I spoke on the subject back in September. 🙂

    https://aetherealengineer.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/fantasy-sounding-nouns-an-orc-by-any-other-name-would-smell-just-as-bad/

    Like

  2. lynntesli says:

    Thank you for sharing 😉 Books are like a baby to an author, and naming your baby can be extremely hard!

    Liked by 1 person

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