Naming My Characters

NamesIt’s been fascinating reading and chatting with people about how they come up with names for their characters, and even more interesting going through a few exercises myself. Some people have said “don’t overthink it, just come up with a name and stick to it, it doesn’t mean anything” and then on the other end of the spectrum, others have said that “it is like naming a child, it is ever so important, you can’t go back on it, and you don’t want to get it wrong!

I have never been very good at naming anything and I do think that names are really important, not so much in their meaning, but in how they work for people and what we associate with each name. I am very aware that each us has very different experiences of people and so a name that is pure, sweet and angelic for me might just be what nightmares are made of for you. However we all LOVE names like Cruella de Vil, because apart from the obvious, they REALLY have the same association for most people. You don’t have to think too hard about the kinds of people that Rose and Vixen are either!

But as I am writing a non-fiction book, and most of my characters are very real people who will most likely not wish to be named, I want their book names to reflect my experiences of them, and to somehow belong to them and make as much sense to my readers as their real names do to me. Maybe I am asking too much? But most of the names amazingly just fell into place and felt very natural, and I am super happy with how they came about, what they allude to, and what connections they have with the other characters. So I want that to be the same for all of them! But I am totally stuck on one of them, and it is one of the major characters. And so after going around in circles and not hitting onto a name that I believed was hanging just out of my reach and would no doubt  be ever so obvious once I grasped it, I decided to ask a trusted group of friends to remind me of what it would be!

This was going to be the most simple task and they would all come back with pretty much the same answer right? I wrote to each person individually so that no one would have their train of thought hampered by anyone els’s, I gave them a VERY clear description of the character (and in fact an over the top description so that I was sure they got it!), and I didn’t even think twice that they would all know exactly what to call her! This was their brief  … yes, WAAAAY over the top, but I wanted to be very very clear, and anyway, I could always tone it down later if necessary:

  • She has been referred to by others as a snake Cobra and a witch
  • Her name has 2 syllables so that needs to remain the same
  • All names that we have come up with end in the sound “eeee” (either an “ie” or a “y” and that is too soft for her, and does not suit her AT ALL.
  • Sharp sounding ending is better if possible.
  • Cruella de Vil suits her down to the ground but that would be just ridiculous!
  •  She is very boney and sharp featured
  • She eats children … (OK, she doesn’t ACTUALLY eat children but she may as well eat them!)
  • She has straight dark hair with blue eyes
  • She was often considered attractive in her day but she eats her prey for breakfast

And then I sat back and waited for the replies…

Six people came up with between three and ten names each, and so there are over thirty names on the list that match this description, but not one of them came up with the same name as another! Two names are out because I have already used them for other people, (not people as mean as this character, but I had picked and used them for different reasons), a dozen of them I associate with really sweet kind people, another dozen were great but sadly don’t suit the exact person, and a small handful were perfect … until I checked the names out and found them to have been already used in modern film or TV shows and so for many, they are VERY loved characters! It left me with one which is perfect … but it breaks too many of these rules on what not to do… I know, there are exceptions to every rule, but if it breaks three or four of them, then maybe I need to think of something else?

Ugh! This is waaaay harder than I thought it would be!

Oh, and suggestions would be MOST welcome!!!

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4 thoughts on “Naming My Characters

  1. It’s interesting how we can spend so much time on naming our characters. I’m in between when it comes to how important the name is. Of course you want it to be unique and stick out to everyone (I mean, who doesn’t know the famous name Harry Potter?) and a name is your identity and who you are. Your characters should have that as well; for them and for you as you write.
    I recently just wrote a couple of posts about finding the right first name and the right surname for your character, but I ultimately think it’s all up to you and the character.
    I’m sure it’ll all fall into place. Good luck. 🙂

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    1. Thanks so much, I will go and see what you said in your posts, it’s a tough one isn’t it. I THOUGHT that I was in the middle ground but then as I used the names in my writing some of them just couldn’t work … and I realised that seeing as I am writing non-fiction, there is a fine line between having something that fits, but is not too much of a give away … 🙂

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  2. thats certainly true for made up people and I sometimes think that that would be so much easier and I should just make stuff up (and maybe I will one day LOL) but for now the truth is way more interesting so I need to stick within those boundaries of reality :/

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