Sunday, April 8, 2012

Writing 101: Naming Characters

Writers are creative by nature, but that doesn't mean they can pull a thousand names from their heads without breaking a sweat. Naming characters can be pretty stressful, and we've all suddenly changed a name at the last minute for one reason or another. When you're drawing a blank, there's lots of resources out there that will help with naming characters.


 Name Resources

The simplest way to find names for your characters is to turn to sites designed for expectant mothers. Type "baby names" into any search engine, and you'll discover a wellspring of name resources that just won't quit. In fact, it can get overwhelming. Narrow the field by choosing a certain letter or combination of letters that speaks to you, and type that into a search string on the baby site itself. Baby sites are very helpful, and many of them will organize names by gender, origin, letter, popularity and a host of additional categories. If you want to write a character with Irish origins, for example, these resources are absolutely priceless. Use the sites to come up with last names as well, as many last names are derived from first names anyway. If you're struggling to find a suitable last name, try smooshing two first names together to create an melodic-sounding combination. 


What's in a Name? 

There's nothing wrong with picking a name at random because it speaks to you in some way, but some writers like to take things even deeper. Rather than just perusing name lists and trying to find one that suits, you can always use your baby name sites for another purpose: name meanings. Are you writing about a strong-willed, no-nonsense heroine? Why not look for names that mean bold, courageous and dauntless? A name that has a meaning, even if it's only to you, becomes something special.

But you can also use names to evoke certain feelings or responses in your readers. Certain names have taken on meanings that are uniquely their own. The name Diana, for example, is so indelibly linked to royalty that it immediately sounds regal. Adolph just sounds evil because of its history, and doesn't everyone shiver when they see a Damien or a Vlad walking through a book? Celebrity names, famous names, historical names and some Biblical names carry a certain weight with them -- some writers might say baggage. But if you're trying to elicit a certain feeling, a name can be a powerful tool.

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