Monday, September 8, 2014

What's in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet...”


Well, no offense, Mr. Shakespeare, but I’m not so sure.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to start dissecting Shakespeare’s sentiment... I wouldn’t dare. Also, I realize that this is more of a metaphor for a rather tumultuous social situation going down in fair Verona. BUT if I were to ask this question in a more literal sense, I might have to disagree. You see, I believe there is a lot in a character’s name. Christening my characters is one of those things I spend days/weeks/months agonizing over while I’m drafting. I can’t just insert any old Tom, Dick or Harry and be done with it. I can’t do it.

Lately on my Twitter feed I’ve seen a lot of folks put out calls for name suggestions. Sometimes the suggestions are loved. Other times the tweeter needs to elaborate on their character’s traits, because honestly, Rosie is probably not the right fit for an evil demon overlord who sucks the souls out of little children. Just like Balthazar doesn’t seem to quite capture the essence of an 8 year-old boy who collects bugs and comic books. You know? Or maybe you don’t? Maybe you disagree? I’m curious what you think, which is why I’m writing this.

I want to know how you pick your character’s names? Are you a regular visitor to baby naming sites? Do you prefer to splice names together and come up with something totally original and exotic? Will any name do for your darlings, so long as their story is solid? Maybe you like to leave it up to fate and consult a random name generator?

I don’t usually settle on a name until revisions (thank you, Search and Replace Function). I always find myself second-naming my characters, too. Bonus if I can inject repetition in there without it sounding too wordy. I like to keep my names original, but I don’t splice because I’m super conscious of uncertainty in pronunciation. And I always, always avoid names that already belong to beloved characters.   

That’s how I do it, how do you do it? Let me know in the comments below.

Louise XO.      


  1. I'm very picky about names. However, I usually get the names squared away from the moment the reader meets the character in the story. Since I'm a panster (nine times out of ten) any vague outline generally goes something like 'Blond girl, introvert, birthmark, finds out she's half unicorn, choose which world to live in. Bad guy might be a good guy, best friend betrays her.' and that's all I have to start with. Once I'm involved, I might go back and fill in the outline better. But as I'm writing, and characters appear, they're named, and virtually always, those names are permanent.

    Unlike a lot of writers, I don't much care about titles. I stick one on, but I'm always game to change it. Character names, and first lines, however, almost never change. Sometimes, I'll take a while to figure out the right name, but that's fine. I don't ever just stick a name on with the intention of fixing it later. Even if (as is the case in at least one of my manuscripts) the character goes by a nickname for most of the book, and their real name doesn't come into play until near the end, that real name is already sorted out when you first meet the character.

    I write a great deal of fantasy, so those names I will just make up (though I take pronunciation into account and try to make them easy because while I LOVE fantasy, I'm not a fan of weird names I can't pronounce in my head) and in the contemporary genre, I tend toward older names, that aren't necessarily super popular. Mostly, I go off gut feeling. The names are as much a part of my characters as their mannerisms and features, so once they're in place, they don't change.

    Obviously if it was the difference between getting published or not, or I had an agent and editor both suggesting that I make a change, I'm not so dumb or stubborn that I'd still refuse. But unless it was that major an issue, the names don'e change.

  2. I wrote a little piece about this a while back that I think you might find useful.

    This applies most especially to characters in fantasy and Sci-Fi settings, but I think it might serve as a point of inspiration for you.

    Hope it helps!

    —Vic S.—