What’s in a Name?-A name I stole from another Author’s Blog!

image from open clipart.org provided by Astro


Rick Polad shared What’s in a Name?  It inspired me to create my version.  And since we both admit we’re crap at creating names (well he struggles, I admit I’m crap at it), I figured I’d steal his title to keep with the theme…because I don’t want to waste time creating another title not because I couldn’t.  

It’s content that matters right?  Except if your title or name sucks, no one will ever get past it and into all the good stuff, which can leave writers stuck.  Even people good with names, can feel stymied by the pressure applied to first impressions.  Bland titles that don’t search well in Google or Amazon.

I have a few thoughts.  First don’t use character names that start with the same letter in a single story. I know Polad speaks about using Rose and Rosie as two different character names in the same work.  I’m thrilled it worked out for him.  As someone with dyslexia it wouldn’t work out for me as either an author or a reader.  Those two names read the same on a casual glance.  Figuring out the characters are separate and keeping them separate would slow my reading down to a snail’s pace.  I might need to make notes.  So don’t make your characters’ names so similar please.  

 I go one further and try never to use names that start with the same letter.  People skim, they don’t read anymore.  I don’t want to confuse anyone kind enough to read my work with names that tangle different characters together into one person.

I also suggest using one name for a character.  I’ve read a lot of books where halfway through characters develop nicknames that are either shorten versions of their full name (i.e. the author tired of writing the full thing out) or the character develops a random pet names.  It’s annoying to keep track a bunch of different names.  Use one name even if it’s not the real name have everyone call him Snake or whatever.  
There is ONE series of books where the author used nicknames to her advantage.  In it she has the main character name those around her after their predominate traits.  It works because it helps us get to know her main character and because the main character’s insistency on these nicknames ends up forcing other characters to adopt them.  The nickname that uses the character’s defining trait becomes how everyone addresses the guy formerly known as Bob.  

I’d like to tell you not to make the name ridiculous, but I use outrageous names all the time.  What I will say is that it’s a balancing act to make names unusual and other names more standard.  Consider when a name might be too on the nose or when one person has a unique name in a sea of bland.

And Now Helpful Resources:
 First is Behind the Name If you’ve got a theme, this site will fill your queue with potential names.  You can search through meanings, country origins, and genders when hunting for names.  All of this can be a sly nod to a reader or something meant only to tickle the author.
My second favorite site is the Fake Name Generator.  Ashley, in writers’ group, gave me this site and now I’m sharing the love.  Identity genorator offers “believable” if you are looking for that living in the real world vibe.  Fill in the specifics you have and let the site give you the rest.  It’s an interesting creators’ tool.  

*Edit 11/7/18 I just found Reedsy has a interesting detailed name generator that offers names for Villains, heroes, mentors, and side kicks.  Or names specific to fantasy races, or names bases off of certain languages.  I still prefer Behind the Name, but Reedsy’s resource has too much possibility to exclude.*

Next I recommend a writers’ group or series of peers.  Ashley gave me a name for one of my characters and she let me know another’s name isn’t “too on the nose”.  Having outside feedback is key to getting into a potential readers’ mindset.  

Last, when all else fails, I bang the keys of my computer and see what rises from the gibberish.  I like grabbing scifi names this way.  
Talk to me.  Do you have trouble creating names for people and places?  Do you have tips, tricks, or favorite sites to help?  Any other thoughts on what not to do when naming a place or person?

15 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?-A name I stole from another Author’s Blog!”

  1. I always treated the “no two characters with the same initial character” as kind of silly until I read The Expanse books. Alex and, uh, what’s his name again, eh, (Googling) oh yeah, Amos, get me every time.

    1. Yeah, that’s a rule I dismissed in my own writing until I realized how much it made my life difficult as a dyslexic reader. A lot of the books I read involve names I never run into in my daily life. I have no idea how to pronounce it, which is not a problem as long as the spellings are very different. But you have to throw me a bone. In the real world I so much more when encountering odd names or similar names connected to different people. I have a face to put with that name, I have immediate visual personality elements. I’m motivated to learn their name because they are a person in my life and knowing their name/pronouncing it correctly shows inherent respect and value that I want to afford all human beings. It still sometimes takes me a long time to learn names.

      When spellings are too similar or when you shove to many names I have no frame of reference for (the writer doesn’t take time to develop the characters before adding more characters) my brain turns those weird twists of letters to gibberish. Said person’s name(s) might as well be symbols for as well as I’m reading it. Then I have to stop the reading flow, pause and say “this is a brain thing, let’s use our skills and try to find context that makes these names come into focus.” “*@%& is talking with the protagonist, are there any times before *@%$ spoke to the protagonist, well I think so because the * is in the front for this other person and I notice their name also seems to be the same length.”

      And that is how I blend two different characters into one person. Some jerk had four characters with short D names in their book one time and the only reason I know their were four separate characters is because a friend and I read it together. It was a frustrating experience.

      As the writer we always think “the two characters are so different no one could mix them up, the personalities will set them apart” and you know what we (and I include myself here) are very wrong on that point. In my novel, I originally had an Alice and Anne in the book. I liked it because the two characters were always together, and had very different personalities. One was out going and adventurous while the other was nervous and people pleasing. It was still too confusing. I changed it to Alice and Claire.

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