Sunday, May 17, 2015

Choosing Character Names

Are you having trouble naming your characters?

At the moment I'm in the process of changing the names of the main characters in my work in progress. What started out as a sequel to my first two novels, has evolved into a time-slip adventure mystery of epic proportions. And while my earlier novels were comedies, this one is filled with danger and drama.

But where do you look for character names? How do you find a name which speaks to you – a name which brings your character to life?

photo: Jeff Licence


I had a lot of fun with the name of the main character in my first novel, Pond Magic. Lily Padd was the obvious choice for a girl who was turning into a frog; it opened up opportunities for humorous gags and a solid reasoning behind the teasing she received from the story's villain, bad boy Rick Bastek.

But Rick's name was more difficult. He needed a surname with harsh edges and a mean sound. In the end, the telephone directory helped me find the perfect fit. Meanwhile, the story's French exchange student asked for a touch of royalty, and while Monaco is not a part of France, Rainier le Dauphin was hatched as a name that sounded noble enough to be authentic. And I liked the play on the meaning of le Dauphin.

In my novel, Snap Magic, two new characters were introduced: the mean girl, Ellen Middleton; and Lily's love interest, Storm Chaseur. Ellen was based on a covert bully I went to school with, whose name was not Ellen, but my old school friends guessed it was her all the same. It felt good when the character Ellen received her comeuppance at the end of the story. (Don't mess with a writer.)

Storm's name came from a real person, a friend's adult son. And I was thrilled when he came along to the book launch of Snap Magic and I signed his book for him. Was he a storm chaser? No, but hey!

Names, like stories, can pop up anywhere. The newspaper is a terrific resource and I recently found a wonderful name generator that gives you similar-sounding names to one you may like but are unsure of. It's called Name Hunter on the baby name site Name Berry. Behind the Name is also a fun site, while some of the super villain names generated on Fantasy Name Generator would be ideal for a grunge band – Necrotic Ninja was my favourite. The Fantasy Name Generator site is worth checking out fully however, as it also includes 'real' names with surnames in a multitude of languages. That's gold!

While you're having fun generating names, pop the possible contenders into a notebook or note page on your phone. When I find a particularly funny name I then do a search on Facebook to see if there are any actual people out there with that name. Yes, I found a Lily Padd – in fact more than one.

Now I'll leave you with this cute video, which is actually an advert for a New Zealand hardware store. See if you can make out the names of each kid in the class. Their parents obviously do too much DIY.


How do you choose your characters' names?

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