26 October 2011

5 Dos When Naming Your Characters

by Diane Carlisle

Let's talk about character names a bit. And I'm coming at this from a reader standpoint. Why? Because I'm a reader! I love to read. As a matter of fact I do more reading than writing these days. Here are 5 things to think about when choosing character names.

1. Please give your characters names that are not similar to one another. For example, don't put Kaleb and Kalee in the same story or in the same proximity to one another. The reader will become exhausted trying to follow who is doing or saying what. Reading should be enjoyable, not feel like we're tracking and sorting oranges and tangerines.

2. Be creative with names, but simple is better. Ofishella doesn't quite do it for me. And try to make sure that names belong in the culture in which the story takes place. If they don't, please give information to the reader which tells them why this foreign name is where it is. In other words, if Asish and Mahua live in India and hire a nanny whose name is Linda, please explain why Linda is there and how she came to be. Diversity is wonderful, just give some backstory, and I say this in the voice of Tony Montana, "you gonna has to esplanit to me."

3. Think about a character's traits before settling with a name. If I read the name Dustin or Brittany, I'm expecting a teenager. Don't ask me why, I just am. If I read Ruth or Martha, I'm expecting an old lady.

Martha stood up and stomped off toward the kitchen. Her wobbly legs gave out and she fell and landed on her tush, the padding of her diaper lessening the impact.

See? I just don't see Martha as a baby learning how to walk. In reality, there probably are a few baby Ruths (no pun intended) or baby Marthas out there somewhere. The problem is for the majority of readers these names are going to connote old ladies.

4. Make sure the social position of your character works well with the name you choose. You don’t want to have Billy Joe Baker running a software company and you certainly don’t want Edward Bentley Groesman, III selling hot dogs from a cart at Lake Ella.

5. Stick with one name. Richard shouldn’t be called Dick interchangeably, even if his wife is mad at him. A friend named Kimberly shouldn’t be referred to as Kim for short if you are introducing her as Kimberly. If anything else, you should make that distinction in the beginning and then stick with the shorter name throughout, “Hi, I’m Kimberly Johnson, but please call me Kim.” From that point forward, she is to be referred to as simply Kim. If you think about it, why wouldn’t someone just say their name was Kim if that’s what they want to be called? Why are you, the author, going against her wishes anyway?

In the voice of Obama, “Let me be clear…this is not a bitch session on character names…far from it. This is simply character name statements. I don’t think I can be any more clearer on this matter. Thank you.”

So, what tricks do you use when creating your character names? Do you have rules for naming your characters? Any peeves on character naming conventions?

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