Saturday, 16 April 2011

NAMES - Arlee's A to Z - Characterisation

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Whether you wait until you are writing (and, like a new parent standing over the crib, you take a long hard look at your developing character) or you dig out the naming books about fifteen seconds after a character becomes a twinkle in your eye, you are going to name your character.

There are a few things to consider:

If the setting of the novel is historical great care is needed to ensure the characters are grounded in the appropriate decade, era, century or millennia.

A name that is hot at the registry office in 2011 may not be the best one to call your MC if they are already adult. A check on the internet will provide you with the most popular names given to children, in many countries, in the correct 
year of your character’s birth.

Some people look for names that reflect the character’s shape, size or colouring.

Names can reflect personality traits. Using languages such as Latin – Fortis (brave) Anglo-Saxon – Aelric (noble rule) or Irish – Abbáeth (lustful) or any other language, world wide, offers a wealth of names with hidden meanings.

Characters could be named according to their significance in the story. Villains, Lovers, Heroes or Tricksters are rarely called Bob.

When you are already creating the language and the rules that govern a whole brave-new-world developing appropriate names adds one more thing to think about. One trick is to combine names to make an unusual but pronounceable names eg Eric and David = Ervid

Few reference books on character development have a section entitled Naming Your Character. 

Character names are like any other words in a story. Choose them carefully only if they’ll make a difference. Pick something that sounds right for the character you have created. Make sure it is reasonably easy to pronounce and to type. 

Remember we don’t judge people by the names half as much as we judge them by what they do.

naïve, narcissistic, narrow minded, nasty, natural, naughty, nauseated, needy, negative, neglected, negligent, nerdy, nervous, neurotic, noble, nonchalant, noncommittal, nonplussed, nosey, nostalgic, numb, nurturing, nutty


Lucas Orme and Rowland Mawan were named after research into the meanings - and literary references - were considered. I also spent a long time crawling over maps too. I was reluctant to use Lucas because it has "s" as the final consonant - it is Lucas' story - but it had to be done ;)


  1. Naming is one of my favorite parts of writing - I spend a lot of time figuring out what name is best. I use all of your helpful hints. I also say the name as if the other characters would be calling the to-be-named character. I go with what sounds and feels right too! Many times I come up with nicknames that way as well.

  2. Nice post, those are some good tips for naming characters. I have fun naming characters when writing. I usually have names picked out before starting draft though occasionally I'll pick something random to call them for the draft and give myself more time to figure out their name.

    I'm feeling nostalgic today. I pulled out my marbleworks last night and the structure I built with them is still sitting out. It says a lot about a toy that it lasted about 20 years and is still fun.

  3. Hi TRR and Claire
    Naming is one of the most exciting parts of writing. Once I've written the name a few times, it takes a lot to persuade me to experiment with a different name. I had heard some people use holding names knowing they will make the decision about names later.

    Taking a glance back into our own past is a hollowing experience.

    Hi Siv Maria
    Thanks :) It is nice to see you dropping by.

  4. Very original post. I've dabbled in numerology and do think names means a lot.

  5. Hi Jerri
    *grins Thanks. I put the same effort into naming the kids ;)

  6. I always have problems with naming my characters. This is a wonderful post.