In the blog post Novelists Enjoy Naming their Babies (i.e. characters) Part I we talked about the novelist’s fascination with names and the process that surrounds naming novel characters.
Tags and Traits
Each character in your novel will have certain tags and personality traits that you have assigned to him or her. Tags are such things as appearance, abilities, attitudes, mannerisms, and speech. The character’s name can be added to that list of tags.
While searching for the just-right name, take the time to learn the meaning of that particular name. Does it fit your character’s personality? Those personality traits can be echoed in the name choice that you make. Or it could be such a complete opposite as to make it clever, catchy, and memorable – such as the massive quarterback nicknamed Tiny.
In the search process, try saying the name aloud. Say it repeatedly. Think of your character as you hear yourself saying the name. Does it resonate with that particular character?
Consider the difference between hard-sounding and soft-sound consonants. Harsh or hard consonants give an impression of ruggedness or grit. In Novelists Enjoy Naming their Babies (i.e. characters) Part I, I pointed out that in the early drafts of Gone with the Wind, the main character was not Scarlett, but Pansy. (Author Margaret Mitchell made the switch at the last minute.) This is a great example of the use of hard versus soft consonant sounds. Even though the reader does not say names aloud while reading, it has to do with how the words fall on the inner ear.
Take care that you don’t give your characters similar-sounding names. Or even names that begin with the same letter. Keep in mind how the eye scans the page as the reader reads your novel. Think how similar names can be quickly and easily confused. Confusion is definitely something you want to avoid at all costs when writing your novel! Another trick in using variety is to vary the number of syllables in each name.
Different novel genres each have a different makeup; hence the faithful readers of each and every genre have certain expectations. Novel genres might include:
- Sci Fi
Hopefully, if you write a certain genre, you also read extensively in that same genre. That means you should have a general working knowledge of the name expectations. The name of the hard-nosed detective in a mystery will not have the same resonance as the name of the guy sitting high in the saddle in a western novel. Likewise, science fiction character names will be totally dissimilar to those in a romance.
This should make total sense, and yet in my years of teaching and instructing in novel writing, I’ve seen these common-sense rules broken too many times to count. It’s a jolt to the reader’s senses, for instance, to have a calloused P.I. named Percy. It just doesn’t set well.
Easy to Pronounce
Beginner novelists, feeling their way along, will often want to kick out the slats and avoid common names. Thinking to be clever, they choose odd, or strange, or even made-up names that are not easily recognizable on the page. (Until I learned better I did the same thing – and will admit it.) The reader, being unable to quickly and easily pronounce the name will skip over it. Or will just lay that novel aside in total frustration. Again, it’s important to avoid confusion at all costs.
An awareness of some of the basics will keep you on the right path as you journey through the character-naming process.
One day perhaps one of your characters will become as well-known as Harry Potter or Simon Legree, or even Scarlett O’Hara. Meanwhile, have fun naming your babies.
I trust the teaching and instruction given in this blog post was helpful in your goal to be a novelist. For more in-depth writer’s workshops, check out the wide variety offered at the Be A Novelist Website.
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