The Meaning of Names
How important are names to you? Until my most recent project started reaching its fruition, I never put much thought into names. I would say a couple and pick the one that seemed to fit the character’s personality the best, but at the same time, most of my characters are fairly average Americans. Once I started delving in to other cultures and ethnicities, names started taking a completely different roll for me.
Mainly Austrian. I spent at least two hours searching for the perfect name for my Austrian character.
I did eventually find one I loved, and I went through the same process for the next few days over my two German characters and another Austrian character. Something about foreign names just begs for special and relevant meanings. I think I may start doing the same process with the rest of my characters. With all of this new information and from hours of studying up on things, here is what I have come to know as my: Character Naming Checklist
- KNOW THE TIME PERIOD
Not every time period had the same names we do today. As time goes on, new sounds and words open up different avenues to create names, not to mention whether or not there is an immigration boom or something else influencing that time period. Depending on the time period, names can be completely different. In the 50’s, my name didn’t exist. There were no “Alyssa”’s to be found, so I wouldn’t use that name if my book was set in the 50’s.
- KNOW THE AREA
Unless you’re writing in a time period where immigration was booming, chances are there aren’t going to be many American names in Germany, unless your character is a traveler or immigrant themselves. Some names have traveled across to other countries, but may have different spellings, so be aware of that. Make sure you spell it correctly, and make sure it is a name you can remember to spell correctly consistently.
- TAKE NOTE OF THE GENDER
Not all names are unisex, and in some countries there are different spellings of the same name to signify a specific gender. Be aware of these facts. Make sure to do your homework and study up on the origins and ways the name is used. There is nothing worse than given your male character a foreign name that is solely used for women. I guess you could do it if you wanted to, but I don’t personally believe that is a wise choice.
- CHECK OUT THE MEANINGS OF THE FIRST NAME AND THE SURNAME
If your project revolves around a family, I would recommend the surname be something representative of the entire family, then choose names to represent every other character in the family. I wouldn’t pick a surname that only represents one member of the family. I usually pick very vague and over-arching names, just to make sure I include everyone in the meaning. Not necessary, but I recommend it.
- SAY THE ENTIRE NAME OUT LOUD
Nothing gets on my nerves more than a name that just sounds plain weird. Sure, Kate-Moss McDonald might be a great name for a character who aspires to be a model, but is crippled by her addiction to drugs and McDonald’s cheeseburgers, but does it really sound right to your ears? If it makes you cringe and laugh at the same time, then it’s probably not the right name. Same goes for names like Ronald Ronaldson or David Davidson… yes, Phillip Phillips has a ring to it, but her is a real person. Characters in a book are a different story. Surnames don’t always make great first names.
Once you’ve checked everything out and you are pleased with everything, slap that name on your character and get back to writing. Now, for my regularly scheduled disclaimer:
THERE ARE NO RULES TO NAMES. THESE ARE RECOMMENDATIONS THAT I BELIEVE SHOULD BE AT LEAST NOTED WHEN SEARCHING FOR A PROPER CHARACTER NAME.
There. Now, did I miss something? Do you have another way of making sure you pick the perfect character name? Please, comment below and let me know.
Thanks for reading!
Names are so hard. The best one I’ve come up with is Abraham Higbee. Got the last name from my family tree. Fit my character and story perfectly.
I like the personal touch in it. I think it connects you better to the work. 🙂 Plus, it’s memorable, without sounding overly exotic or strange.
Character’s names are very important. You can only read about “Bob or John” so much. I would have to say it depends heavily what I am writing about. My current WIP the I change the main character’s name twice.
When developing a new character, I go to a baby name sites. I look for names with good meanings behind them that will fit the setting or personality I see in the character. They usually list the most popular names, thus far for the year. I try to stay away from the popular names and revive a unique name or less popular name.
Sometimes, I may use names with those I meet when I am out and about. Those are for the minor characters usually.