Coming up with names for your characters is easy, right? Just to hit one of those random name generator sites like Seventh Sanctum and you’re done.
Of course it’s not like that at all.
A name generator site is a good first start, but what goes into picking the names of the inhabitants of your story is much more complicated than that.
And you know what’s interesting? Nobody even notices good character names. It’s only the bad ones that stick out. I’ve always been open to the fact that I haven’t read the Harry Potter series, but, come on. We’re supposed to take a villain named Volemort seriously? (Of course, I’m still trying to figure out how we’re supposed to take a place name Hogwarts seriously too. Maybe there’s some sort of joke I’m missing.)
Or lets take a look at one of my biggest pet peeves from the Star Wars prequels. Qui-Gon Jinn? Count Dooku? Mace Windu? Sio Bibble? What were they thinking? My three-year-old comes up with better names then these when she plays with her dolls.
Sigh. You have Christopher Lee sign up and give him a name that sounds like the way a toddler describes a bowel movement.
Ok. Take a deep breath. Here at Write Good Books, we don’t criticize. We offer solutions.
So in general, how should you go about naming your characters?
It’s easy. Simply read this list and make sure that your character names are…
Easy to pronounce
If you ask me, this is the most important thing to remember when naming your character. If the reader has to stop and sound out the letters every time he sees the protagonist’s name, you’ve got a problem. Now, I’m not saying you need to fill your sci-fi story with names like Luke or Ben, but when you do create those crazy alien names, just try to make them follow our basic rules of pronunciation. And if you feel like that’s “not realistic” for an extra terrestrial entity to use a standard English consonant-vowel combo, remember that you’re still using a standard English alphabet, so your argument is irrelevant 🙂
Not silly-sounding (unless it fits the story)
I poked fun a Star War and Harry Potter earlier, but let’s face the facts. It is distracting if characters who are supposed to be taken seriously have names like “Count Dooku.” Do no make your character’s name sound like something a three-year-old on a sugar high came up with.
Not too similar to other characters’ names
Every read a novel where every characters’ name began with an “S” and you had to spend the first half of the book going back and refreshing your memory on who is who?
No more than two or three syllables
I know I’ll get some disagreements with this one, but before you start yelling at me, let me be clear. I’m not talking about the full character name. Make your character’s proper and complete name as long as you want. What I’m talking about here is the name you will use most commonly to refer to your character. If the character’s name is too long, it will slow down the pace, so try to keep it short.
Avoid pop culture
I wouldn’t recommend naming a character after a current, trendy, American pop culture icon. If you want to have a character named “Frank” because his parents were huge Sinatra fans, go for it. Buy naming a character “Psy” after Gangnam Style? Not so much.
Avoid ethnic stereotypes
Back in the day, the World Wrestling Federation would make sure every wrestler had another persona or day job and also just happened to wrestle on the side. The had a race car driver named Thurman “Sparky” Plugg (wow, see point # 2 above), a hockey player, a plumber, a country western singer, and on and on. But for some of these wrestlers, the day job was simply not being a white guy. They had Tatanka (the Native American), Kamala (the Ugandan Headhunter), El Matador (Tito Santanta, a great wrestler who had become a bullfighter), Samba Simba (The African…something, who was another legendary wrestler repackaged to be a stereotype) and a handful of Russians who’s day job was that they were…Russians.
Anyhow, don’t do that. Have diversity in your stories all day long, but make sure do your research and use realistic names for these characters and not something that appears to have come straight out of the 1980s wrestling scene.
So that’s my advice. Create unique, realistic character names and it will improve your story. But if you don’t think things out and you come up with terrible or confusing names, it just might turn your story into Dooku.
Have any other tips for creating great character names? Let a comment and let us know!