The name of the gameJuly 31, 2009 at 3:38 AM | Posted in Writing, Writing Advice | 9 Comments
A name can make or break a book; sometimes, the name of a character is important for their character development. Take the main character of “Avalon High” by Meg Cabot. Being called “Elle” by Will (the main guy, if you haven’t read it!) makes him stand out, because no-one’s ever called her that before. Bella Swan in “Twilight” is defined to her classmates, at the beginning, as Isabella – and only when they speak to her do they realise she wants to be called Bella.
Sometimes, character names have particular meanings or associations: Professor Sprout in “Harry Potter” has a surname which clearly denotes her field of teaching; Professor Dumbledore’s surname is an old word for “bumblebee”, according to J K Rowling, which can certainly suggest something about his nature.
Names are important; people like to empathise with characters, and if the name doesn’t fit, they can struggle. So, how do you come up with the all important name for your main character if one doesn’t immediately jump out at you? Personally, names don’t often immediately jump out at me. In the series I’m writing currently, one character – Ella – had that name from the beginning. The main character, on the other hand, was given a randomly assigned name until the perfect one – Imogen – could be found.
For me, baby naming websites are invaluable (and yes, I am sure my parents would draw some interesting conclusions if they look at some of the things saved in my favourites which are research!). The ability to search through names with lots of different criteria is very useful, but if you haven’t any ideas at all, where on Earth do you start? First, pick a letter. One that you think could go well with your main character’s surname – if they have one yet. Then decide if you want a common name or an unusual one. English, Italian, French, German – what fits in with your MC’s history? Then trawl. Write down all the ones you like, create a shortlist. If you need a surname, some websites have great categories of surname-like baby names, which are great when everything you come up with alone doesn’t sound like a legitimate surname (or am I the only one who does that?)
Personally, I wouldn’t look too hard to a meaning that fits your character; if you happen to find a name with a meaning that fits your characters personality, then great – if not, then don’t worry. After all, our parents named us without having a clue how we’d turn out, so complicated name-meanings that will only mean something to the odd person who decides to search the name after having read your book are nowhere near as important as having a name that works for your character.
Another thing to think about is whether you want to be able to shorten the name. It was essential in “Family Portrait” that the name could be shortened, as I had already worked out the situations in which it would need to be shortened, and so a name that couldn’t have a nickname – or where all shortened versions were confusing/hard to pronounce/ridiculous really wasn’t suitable.
Finally, don’t underestimate your family and friends; ask them for their favourite names – you never know, one could suit your character perfectly! So, I’ll end with a question: what’s your favourite name – male or female? Have you used it for a character?
PS. If you’re one of those people who find characters’ names just pop up in your head along with the plotline, then I’m jealous!
–Becky (AKA Beckywannacuppateani)