How to find names for characters
How important are names? I’m talking about the names of characters, especially the main character.
For the main character you want a name that awakens feelings of trust and empathy in the reader. You want the reader to identify with the main character. A man needs a strong name and a woman a soft name. A name should also be easy to read and easy to remember. Don’t use a name like Fernando Esperanto Garlokkini Tweedlewood as you main character; not even as any character, unless you write a comedy.
You probably snickered when you read that name. Believe me, I’ve seen similar names, especially in SciFi or Fantasy novels. Some of them were impossible to read, never mind trying to remember them. I’ve seen names with numbers and letters, names with barely a consonant in them, names as long as a whole sentence. I’m sure the writer did not even bother sounding them out. First of all there is no way even the writer can spell a name like that the same throughout the novel. I know I can’t.
So avoid long names, cute names, and names that sound too foreign. Readers don’t want to stumble over them every time they come up. Also, do sound them out. In one my short stories I was looking for the name of a star system. I made one up Arsol. It looked cool, but needles to say after sounding it out I did not use it.
For my trilogy ‘Web of conspiracy’ I named the main character Jeff Chartrand. The name is short, strong, easy to spell and easy to remember. For the secondary characters I used names like Spencer, Stoneman, Sheppard etc. Chartrand partner’s name, a woman, is called Maxine Montana. He calls her ‘Max’. There is a reason for that.
Even in my Science Fiction novels, where I can be liberal with the names, I try to keep them simple. I can’t name aliens with Earth names, but I don’t make them difficult to spell or read. I used names like Sheera, Norgana, and Spreeh. Easy to write and read.
How do I come up with names like that? I use different methods. I may take a regular name like Sheena and change one letter: Sheera. Morgan become Norgana. Harry may end up as Serrie. Or I may drop the h from Sherry and make ie out of the y at the end. Two different approaches. The main idea is to keep it simple. Don’t make Sherry into S5harriiiy2 just because it looks exotic and alien. You’ll forget how you spelled it the third time you’ll write it and I’ll challenge you to pronounce it.
Even with regular names it may become confusing. I keep a printed sheet with the names and background of all my characters beside me when I write. I update the sheet as I add new names and new details about the characters.
Of course, like with anything in life, there are exceptions to the rule. In the book I’m currently writing, I’m using cute names deliberately. That’s because the book is written in a somewhat humorous tone. The main Character, a detective, is called Lews Bullseye Canon. His partner, a woman, is Tusnelda. (I apologize to any woman by the name Tusnelda). I knew a girl once in my childhood by that name, but the character in my book isn’t modeled after her. Anyway, Tusnelda doesn’t like her name and she calls herself ‘Nelda’. I have names like Brandon Brandon in there and Frederick Titman. I would never use names like that in my regular novels.
Conclusion: If you write in English, stick with English sounding names. Refrain from using too many foreign names. In fact the other day I checked for Chinese names and I discovered that Peter, Harry, John, and other English names are quite popular in China.
Many times I use a telephone book to find names for my characters.
More next time