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How to Name Your Characters

You might not think that the name of a character in a story you are writing is that important, but it is. It is very important. The name has to fit the character. When you hear a name, it has to match what you see in your mind. It needs to match their actions and their personality. It will be belong to the character afterall.

But how do you go about choosing the names for your characters? There are several different ways with none being the only correct one. It all depends on you.

Everyone Has Their Own Way

As I just said, there is no hard and fast rule on how to name your characters. If you asked twenty different bestselling authors, they would give you at least five or six different ways of going about it. Everyone has their own way to name their characters.

I am one that goes with gut. My friend researches names. It could take her a week to find one character’s name. It is that important to her. I do look up meanings at time, but the name has to feel right to me. I’ve even walked in cemeteries for names. You can read lists of names from history for ideas. There are a number of sources and ways to go about this.

Meaning of Names

A lot of people look at what a name means and matches the meaning with the character. For example, let’s use my name in a book. The character is sneaky. She might be a bounty hunter, a lawyer, or a private investigator. The name ‘Rebecca’ means ‘ensnarer’. Kind of fits,doesn’t it?

If your character is a strong character with a streak of honesty that gets him in trouble, find a name that means honest. Who is your character? What is it about them that stands out? Use physical features, personality traits, and even professions to help name your characters.

Don’t forget that you can use derivatives of names as well. You don’t have to use ‘Rebecca’. You could use Becca, Beck, Bec, Becky, Reba, or Reb. See what I mean? You have more to work with than you might think by looking at the meaning of names.

Use baby name books or sites. There are many sources to finding out the meaning of names.

Ethnic Origins

You might want to mix ethnic origins of names with meanings or just focus on the ethnic background. For example, I needed a Native America name. I had no specific tribe so that did not matter. It had to be a woman. I ignored meanings. I looked for Native American female names. The one that stood out to me was ‘Tahnee’. I loved it. So, my character got that name.

You don’t have to take ethnicity into consideration. I named a character with an Irish name and someone commented that I’m describing her as Irish. My name is Hebrew and I’m far from Jewish. There is rule your characters have to be the ethnicity of their name though it might be important that they are if they are from that country or if their family was very traditional.

Naming your characters has to be believable for your readers to connect to them.

Gut Instincts

I am more for gut instincts when it comes to naming my characters. I read through names until I find one that screams out to me. It says, “Hey, I’m the one for that character.” Drives my author friends nuts. But it works for me.

There is nothing wrong with gut instinct. Several times, the name’s meaning happened to work out just fine and I used that in the story. Even if you go with the gut, check out the background of the name. You might be able to incorporate it into the story. It might even help with the plot.

Family Tree

Have you checked out your family tree? I have found some really cool names on mine that I have used in my stories. This can really be helpful with names used in a specific time period or country. I can look back on my German branch and find great names. I can look back on my Scottish one as well and pick a legitimate name used in that time period.

Plus, when you use a name from your family tree, you are making the story a little more personal. It has a little bit of you in more than just the writing.

Written by

Writer for ten years, lover of education, and degrees in business, history, and English. Striving to become a Renassiance woman.

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