What’s In A Name?: The Challenge Of Finding The Right Names For Your Characters

One of the reasons why I enjoy writing my own stories is the total control I have over everything. I get to decide if my story takes place in the real world or a fantasy. I choose what my characters look like, what color eyes they have, and how they dress. I can dictate if my main character will be a heroine who lives happily ever after or will have their life end in tragedy. That’s the thing about writing—there’s no limit to what you can do. You’re in the driver seat the entire time. But one of the challenging parts about writing is deciding what to name your characters.

Jay Gatsby. Jane Eyre. Huckleberry Finn. Atticus Finch. Harry Potter. Katniss Everdeen. What do all these names have in common? They are all the names of memorable characters from great works of fiction. Whether or not you have read the books from which these characters appear you will most likely be familiar with their names. Every single one of them, and many others beyond the ones I’ve listed here, have a quality to their names that are hard to forget. They all have a nice ring to them when you say these names out loud.

When I read books with incredible characters who have an unforgettable name, I often wonder how long did it take the writer to come up with the name they gave their character? Was it like a light bulb going off in their head, and they instinctively knew this was what they will be calling their character? Or did it take several weeks or months before they finally landed on the perfect name? Since I’m writing my own book it’s the latter rather than the former for me.

Figuring out what to name your characters can be a fun process but a very difficult one as well. Maybe you want the name to mean something to the character you’re writing about. Or maybe it doesn’t mean anything at all and you’re just picking one out at random from a name generator.

I’ve always been fascinated by the origin of a person’s name. I’ve looked up what my name and others’ names mean. Most of the time it’s really uncanny just how well suited the names our parents have chosen for us actually fit to a certain degree. There’s a certain characteristic or personality to a name that relates in some way to our own individual traits.

It’s possible that a name is really just that—a name. Personally, especially when I’m writing a story, I want the names I give my characters to have some significance. I want it to roll off the tongue as naturally as Inigo Montoya or Emma Woodhouse does. I’ve gone back and forth between the names I’ve given to my characters. I usually need to experiment, or sit with the names for a bit before I’m able to decide that this is the name my characters will be called. Part of my process involves researching a number of different names that have origins in Greek, Latin, English, or French. But when I do stumble upon a name that I absolutely adore, I’m confident that this is my writer’s instinct kicking in to tell me I’ve found the one.

Maybe the names of my characters won’t be quite like a Dorothy Gale or a Frodo Baggins but I can only hope it comes pretty close.

2 thoughts on “What’s In A Name?: The Challenge Of Finding The Right Names For Your Characters

  1. Character creation is my favorite thing to do when I’m brainstorming a story! So much fun! A lot of times I base character names on whatever sounds good, and then I look them up and half the time the origins have zero relevance to the story or their arc, hah hah. But I so appreciate the time authors put in to give their characters meaningful names that roll off the tongue! 😀

    1. Another fun thing I’ve been doing with my characters is creating brief profiles/biographies once I figure out their name! I think it’s helpful in fully fleshing out your characters, even if none of it ever makes it into the story itself. At least for me it allows me to think of them as unique individuals with their own likes/dislikes, and I have a clearer picture in my mind of what I want them to look like! 🙂

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