Creating character names in fiction

The Importance of Character Names

As anyone who loves language knows, words contain power, and there is nothing more powerful in any language than a name. Knowing this, it was important to me when I started writing to come up with the perfect character names for not only the main characters but minor characters as well. For most authors, agonizing over how to come up with character name can be just as stressful as choosing the name for a baby—it comes as no surprise to find a Google search for “baby names” produces over 600,000,000 results.

What you call your character can influence your readers’ perception of them. The name can elicit feelings of importance, mistrust, or even humor. For instance, C.S. Lewis used a character name to great humorous effect in one of the more famous lines in his book The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: 

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

In an effort to help, here is the process I follow:

  • What is their background? If the character is part of a certain race, political, or geographical background, I will already have a background in mind for them—sixth century Welsh Gaelic, for instance.
  • How about their personality? Knowing their background is from sixth century Wales, I look up meanings behind names from that era to find one that describes a certain aspect of their personality. Are they fair? Brave? Mischievous? Etc.
  • Is it too similar? While there is no way to make sure there hasn’t been a character written about in the era of fiction writing, a certain amount of common sense research is done as to not name a character the same name as a popular fiction character or a real person. Common sense: the protagonist of your manuscript shouldn’t be called Harry Potter or Perry Hotter either.

It really is as simple as that. Of course, there is always a gut feeling involved when it comes to writing a character. If the name feels off for some reason, don’t hesitate to change it. Trust your gut instincts, and your character names could be the next to become famous.

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