Next in my “What’s In A Name” series [WIAN for short, please], I want to talk about how I choose character names, including some of the meanings behind them.
Of all the parts of writing a story that I find the most fun, yet the most challenging, it is finding the right names for my characters. The right names can tether your characters to the qualities you’ve given them. A bad name choice can knock readers out of a story.
Speaking for my own preferences, I’ve encountered character names that have made me put back a book, because they are cliché, unbelievable, or just awkward – and not awkward in a way that fits the character’s narrative. Obviously, this is my personal preference, and not necessarily global opinion; but I figure that if I’m noticing/feeling it, I am probably not the only one!
That being said, choosing a character name can be a complicated process. I have a couple of methods that I use:
- Intuition. Sometimes, characters “tell” me their names! I might have an idea of who they are and what they are about, and while I’m sketching that out, a name will just appear. Instances of this are rare, but in my upcoming book In Sleep You Know I have at least two major characters where this happened: Lucee Fearney and Joseph Sousa.
- Serendipity. I collect names for future characters and keep those names in a list. One might pop out in a scan as the perfect name for a character I’m envisioning. Or I might be doing research on names for one character, when a name for a completely different character introduces itself. Examples: Merrick Moore, Camlin of The Grimshaw.
- Research. As I mentioned above, I do a lot of research when it comes to names. For my Eleriannan books, I want characters with meaningful names, so I took a list of attributes and did an online search for names that reflected those attributes. I also do things like check name origins, so that those names make sense for the characters that will carry them.
I’m going to take a moment to expand here about name meanings. I like names with hidden clues about characters and places. If you want a fun exercise, you can go through all the ones I use and get insight about personalities or potentials.
- Cullen – handsome
- Merrick – fame, leader
- Fallon – superiority, descended from rulers
- Sheridan – untamed, wild, to seek
… By the way, this carries over into the faction names – the Eleriannan and Gwyliannan, for example, found their names from the Welsh concept of the ellyllon and gwyllion, benevolent elves and “frightful fairies” – I developed the name changes to hint at that reference, while keeping their own unique feeling. I’ll admit that they’re a touch easier to pronounce, as well. Go ahead and drop “Gwyliannan” into the Google translate for Welsh and see what you get!
Hopefully this gives you some background as to how I work with names and use them to build layers in my stories. I’d love to hear from you about this! If you are a writer, how do you choose your names? If you are a reader, what are your favorite character names, and why?