Sunday, September 4, 2011

What's in a Name - Naming Your Characters

Since I can't sleep, and I've been reading through my Twitter feed, I thought I would write about something that has been a recent issue with many writer friends - naming.

I think names are the single most important part of characterization. Why? Because a rose by any other name would NOT smell just as sweet. Names define us, they shape how we see ourselves and how we see others. So if this happens with real people, of COURSE it happens to characters in books.

So how do you choose names? I'm a *prolific* writer, apparently, so you'd think I might run out of things to call people... well, no. I don't. I have several things I use when I'm stumped for a name.

1. Encyclopedia of Gods - this has come in handy especially when I haven't had internet access AND was writing LOVERS AND RIVALS.
2. Baby name book - I bought this a long time ago because of its general usefulness. Meanings, pronounciations, and ethnicities are all outlined. Even related names are listed! It's great!
3. The Interwebs - if you were dead you might ignore this huge resource. I usually go here when I'm feeling lazy, impatient, or am looking for something very specific...

Now, these are general places where a person can find names. But how do you actually pick? I try for themes. I imagine the character in my mind. What are they like? What do they do? Who are their parents? Family members? Lovers? Rivals? What do they want? Then, I find a name that fits the person.

It's not an exact science, but at a certain point you have to make an executive decision. What should I call you? One character in LOVERS AND RIVALS is named Cam. He goes by Cam because he hates his full name. He hates it because it is pompous, and he was named, like so many of his kind, after a "god" with typical traits of his race. In addition to this, the short form implies a closeness with other characters, and allows the opportunity for teasing as I see fit.

See how that works? Beautiful. Well, at least good enough for rock and roll.
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