Start Your Week Off Write: Name That Character

This is Monday’s post, a little late due to life. Back to your regular programming.

What's in a name? Could be everything...

Atticus Finch. Holly Golightly. Edmond Dantes. Huckleberry Finn. Edward Cullen. Elizabeth Bennett. Oliver Twist. Sherlock Holmes. Gandalf the Grey. Hannibal Lecter. Stephanie Plum. James Bond. Jean Valjean. Anton Chigurh. Holden Caufield. Jack Reacher. Harry Potter. Yuri Zhivago. Lisbeth Salander. What do all these characters have in common? The authors who created them had to name them.

How did the authors find their characters’ distinctive names? Or are they only distinctive because of their distinctive literary personality? James Bond is a pretty average name when you think about it. But the personality that immediately comes to mind when you hear it? Not average at all.

How do authors find the right name to fit their characters? I keep a list. When I hear or read a name that I find intriguing, I put it on my list. It is literally a list on a piece of paper that has three columns: first name, last name, where I found it. I’m sure I could get more technologically advanced and put it in an Excel spreadsheet, but I like seeing it on paper for some reason. There are two reasons I divide it into three columns. 

  1. I want to see the original name
  2.  I can easily match up first and last names into different combos

This week I discovered a new resource for names. My town now has a mini-newspaper called Just Busted. For a dollar you can peruse the mugshots and names of all the people in the county who were arrested that week. Who would read a newspaper like that besides a strange writer who wanted to talk about it on her blog? It’s pretty strange. But there were some interesting names in it. Now the moral implications of naming a character after a possible felon is something to consider, but it still makes you think about the different ways you can find names. Here are some more traditional places to find names:

  • Baby name books and sites
  • Newspaper birth, death and marriage announcements
  • Televised and print news, especially local
  • Online census records
  • Celebrities and politicians
  • Name tags on associates at local businesses
  • Graveyards (if you dare)

I also have a list of the names of soldiers who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq that I hope to morph into names for hero characters in future stories. It is my very small tribute. Avoid using the actual full name of a real person, but you can combine lots of names to form your character’s unique name. Make sure you say it out loud frequently to examine its lyrical quality or lack thereof. With a great character and story to match, your character’s name may be as memorable as Atticus Finch one day.

Check out these links for more advice on naming characters:

Question: How did you decide on your latest character’s name?

3 thoughts on “Start Your Week Off Write: Name That Character

  1. Excellent post! Naming characters can often be difficult. Sometimes your character’s name just pops into your head and conjures up a story. Other times you have a good story, but the protagonist’s name eludes you. Thanks for all of your helpful suggestions.
    Jackie King


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