When I was a little girl, I had a binder full of names. I named the characters in the stories I created, my dolls, and the fictional people in the houses I picked out of architectural magazines. I loved picking out names. To me it was FUN!
Choosing a name for a character in my books nowadays can be as exciting as it is challenging. It’s a similar feeling I had when it came time to create a list of names for my children before they were born. While I wish I could say it was as easy and fun as when I was a kid, I can’t. I seriously felt a lot of pressure to pick a name that my children would have FOREVER. Or at least until they could legally change it. A whole other layer to naming children is when you need to take into account another person’s opinion, such as your partner’s.
Now, you might be asking yourself, what in the world does this have to do with naming characters? You’d be surprised.
So, how do I decide on the names for the characters in my stories? Typically it depends on my mood or creative headspace. When a story comes to me, I like to sit quietly and focus on name ideas. As they flow through my mind, I write them down or record them on my phone. I don’t always picture which character goes with a particular name until I stop brainstorming. Then I go by intuition. What name seems to fit which character the best?
There are times I am in the middle of writing and need to add a new person to the story, and the name happens organically. It feels right. Then there are times, such as in my story, Song of the Reaper, a modern Pied Piper fairytale retelling, that I chose the characters’ names based on words relating to music: Lyra (similar to lyrical or lyre), Kaydence “Kay,” Aria, and Reed.
Then there are the characters within the story who decide they need a say, too, intervening to let me know the name I’ve chosen doesn’t work for them, and that they demand a new one. A better one.
Right now there’s the main character of the fantasy series I’m currently working on that has stubbornly hung onto the name I first gave her. Fiercely protecting it. Upset that I would even dare to consider another. Making me feel guilty at even thinking her name, well, wasn’t her.
As I try to solidify names, I often find creating a character board (blog post coming soon!) is extremely helpful. Honestly, a visual representation is pretty awesome to see in person! It helps keep the characters alive. Seeing the names and pictures gives me a chance to conceptualize how they fit together in a way I could never get from the list in my world binder.
In my mind, I have a vision of what each character looks like. I look online or to people I know to find a physical representation of the individual I envision. This step helps me turn the vision into reality. It also helps when I write. I can then look to the board to better describe those small physical details I may have missed before, a feature, a mannerism, or overall look of that particular character. Viewing the cast as a whole will push me to think differently too.
I often ask myself these types of questions:
- Do I have too many characters with names starting with the same letter?
- Do many have a similar sound or cadence?
- How many syllables are in the names?
- Do they work together as a cast of characters?
- Are they easy to read or understand?
- Is it important for their name to have some type of significance to their role or the story?
At this time you might think, it’s my story, my name, my choice. Right? Oh, if it were only that simple (here I just shake my head and give a wry chuckle). Once I choose the name, then it gets a run through by my beta readers, my editor, and well-meaning friends and family.
Although, if I’m going to be honest with you, really and truly honest? I have to say that while I take all those opinions seriously and thank them for their genuine interest, it’s neither their opinion nor even mine that decide. It comes down to one thing. Are my characters happy to live out their lives within those treasured pages with that name? Because really, I’m at their whim. And while I’d like to say, “Who put you in charge?” I know I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I invest my heart and soul into the books I write, and each one of my characters comes to life in a small corner of my mind, where they wait patiently for me to tell their story. I can’t wait to share their names—and their stories—with the world.