Friday, 28 February 2014

How to name your characters.

How to name your characters.

It is always fun naming characters. You create a new identity when you name them. But how to make the name stand out or be unique?

Make a list – Always a good way to start. Jot down all those names you are partial to and see if the name works well for your character. Does it fit your character? I’m not talking about the name meaning. Just how it sounds when you call that person with that name. If the character is a pretty and soft girl naming her Flora will do wonders to the character's image.

Friends can help too – I do this when I am not able to find a good name. I ask my best friends to give me a list of names. A good one might just pop out of it. Or better, you could take a name and make a version of it. Smash two names to get one of your liking. Say, there are two names Aayan and Han. Aahan is created out of it. Fun, yes?

Get rid of favoritism – One of my stories had four of the ten round character’s names beginning with the letter J. And my other story had two Js. Break out of the preference and look for names starting from different letters. 

Meaning – I like to name my characters with that name whose meaning I feel does justice to the character. We know Harry means ruler. Imagine naming Filch that. However, you DON’T have to follow this at all! Sometimes the irony is great too. And really, most of the times readers don't look for this detail.

Last names – Last names can be hard to create. Steal last names from real people you know or you can make up your own. However, in realistic fiction think twice before you do that. In India, it so happens that different sects of people share a particular last name. It sometimes identifies the state they are from. Or the religion. Do some research when it comes to names in realistic fiction or any genre for the matter. 

Ethnicity – The same thing I mentioned in last names. Decide on your character’s background and name him/her so. If it is a Russian character you could name him something like Vladimir; the name must indicate the ethnicity.

Originality – Kick convention aside. Names can have a lot of impact on the reader. So impress them with your creativity. Bring out some original names.

Unique doesn’t mean weird – Now, Voldemort is quite unique. But it doesn’t come across as weird. In the name of being creative, don’t generate names that are hard to pronounce or read. You don’t want the reader to find it a mouthful that they just skim over the word. Simple isn’t a crime.

Common names are also not a crime – Don’t hesitate to use popular names. You want to name your protagonist Tom? It is better than something like Kiloushjt.

What is the internet for? – Google ‘Baby boy names starting with the letter A’ and you find yourself looking at many sites that offer you long lists of some great names.  The internet is your largest resource of information. Exploit it.
Don’t forget the time – Yes. This is very crucial. You cannot name a 16th century knight with a modern day punk name. Choose names that indicate the time period your story is set in.

Nicknames - Do you want your character to have a nickname? Choose a name that can be shortened to a good nick name. Foe example - Elizebeth to Lizzie or Sushanna to Suze.

Things - Yes, you can use things to name your character. Wood can be an excellent last name.

Do you like the name? – If you aren’t comfortable with the name, your character isn’t comfortable too. Make sure you are ok with it.

Happy naming!

What are the methods you use?

Manisha Mahalingam.

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