Shakespeare wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
Ah, but is this really true? Unless you earn insane amounts of money and play tag with paparazzi, it isn’t likely the average person would name their child something like what Cracked.com features in an article:
As volatile and entertaining as the baby naming subject may be, it’s the naming of characters that I find interesting. Some authors have no method whatsoever. They basically pull names out of an imaginary hat, or perhaps, a real one. I met a horror author, Elizabeth Donald, who asks her friends if she can borrow their names. It surprised her how thrilled people reacted to read their namesake’s gruesome demise.
Personally, I have a multi-step process.
1) Is it a major character or minor character? As a rule, I rarely use generic names for major characters, but once in awhile popular opinion flips on me and my “unique” name is now in the top 10 list. This is more a problem for my male characters, because on the whole, we just aren’t that creative with male names. There have been Michaels and Johns and Harrys for centuries. However, I bet you haven’t met a Demelza or Henrieta lately.
2) In what era does the story take place? Try naming an old west cowboy Jayzee, and the reader will probably go WTH? Really? Unless my character’s parents were sadistic people who hated their child, a modern character isn’t going to haul around a name like Henrieta either.
3) Location and/or ethnic heritage. Okay, so maybe that Indian telemarketer’s name really was “Bob”. However, if I want the reader to draw an accurate image in their head, I try to name the character in such a way that it does not clash with the image I wish the reader to see. If I have an Apache Indian character, I’ll research traditional Apache names. If my character is of Celtic descent, then likewise I research Celtic names, and so on. The fun ones are aliens. The more “human” my character, I try to pick real names that have a bit of an exotic mystique to them. For my very non-human aliens, well, I make stuff up. 🙂 Still, I must imagine the language of the character. Is it a guttural language? Flowing? Clicks? Squeaks? etc.
4) What does the name mean? The last, but most important aspect to me is the meaning of the name. Most of the time I choose a name that symbolizes something about the character. It’s like the skeleton upon which I mold the clay that becomes my character.
What are some of your all time favorite character names? Have you ever read a name and thought, “Oh, you poor dear. Your mum really didn’t like you, did she?”