I feel sorry for any future children I may have, because they'll be nameless for the first few days of their life. I'm extremely picky. It takes me forever to name a character because I have to love it and it has to fit. I've got to believe the character suits their name. I've got a tendency of starting a story and referring to my characters as “he” and “she” because I'm so indecisive when it comes to naming them.
I have a few rules for names:
- No popular/common/fashionable/trendy names.
- Names should be interesting, but not so unusual no-one's ever heard of them.
Pronunciations are a whole other issue. Names from cultures or languages you're not familiar with may seem bizarre at first, so make sure you know how to say them if you're going to use them. And don't worry readers will put the book down because they can't read the name; trust them to work it out. I read a book when I could not work out one of the character's names, so I spent the whole book calling him 'Sky Bin'.
If you're creating a name for an alien race or alien character, don't make it unreadable just so it looks unearthly. The great thing about English is it's very adaptable and you can make up readable words with ease.
Phew, went off on a slight tangent. Back to business!
A good place to start is babynames.com It's free and it lists a lot of names and meanings. It also lists names according to popularity, which can be helpful if you want to avoid anything too popular. If that website doesn't have enough for you, break out a hefty baby name book and get searching. You'll find them in the parenting section of bookshops.
Phone directories are a good place too. Go through it at random and see what you find!
Of course, the type of story you're writing may dictate what your character's name can be. You're not going to find too many queens called Sally or kings called Bob; they lack the regal touch of Elizabeth and James. If you want to name a royal character, check out a list of English monarchs to give you an idea of popular regal names.
|War Time advice for naming your royal character!|
If your story is a historical piece, you should research names from that period and location. In bygone eras, people and therefore names didn't travel so much. If the name doesn't fit the period, you will discover readers who'll put your book down just because they know. Think of your own field of expertise. If someone got the details wrong in a book, it would frustrate you and jerk you out of the narrative's flow. Make sure the name fits!
Some people like to give characters names that reflect their personality. That's fine, if it's your preference. I've tried it in the past but found it too limiting. It can also seem cheesy if you name a black-haired, dark-eyed, pale-skinned character Raven/Ravyn or a grey-haired, grey-eyed character Raine. If you're going to use meanings, try to be really, really ingenious, almost like you're challenging the reader to puzzle out the importance of the name in relation to events in the character's life.
Unless you're writing something ready to be added to the literary canon taught throughout the world as a post-modern take on authorship, don't give the character your name. Leave your super awesome, superhero character self in the past where she or he belongs.
The characters' names could help your book stand out from the crowd when potential readers check out the blurb. Naming is a personal thing; you've got to like the names, but I think it's also important to remember your plot and your intended audience.