“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet?” – Romeo and Juliet – Shakespeare.
Is a name important? Would someone or something be different if they were known by another name? Would it change the way you feel about them?
Of course they’re important!
In a story, names are important. We want our characters to be memorable; to engage the reader’s interest. In some cases, names determine their owner’s voice and character traits. Your character’s name needs to be memorable for whatever their actions. Names can signify strength, fragility, cuteness, dangerousness, nastiness, ugliness, courage, cowardice, homeliness, compassion and, all those other adjectives describing personality traits.
Scarlet O’Hara, Harry Potter, Voldemort, Hagrid (plus most of that story’s characters), Luke Skywalker, Jason Bourne, Jack Reacher, the list goes on. Who can forget these names, what they mean to you and how they make you feel?
Your characters’ names can also be used to falsely represent the characteristics or personalities of their owner; opportunity for their fellow characters to reflect on the irony. A couple of examples from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series include Big Fido – The tough leader of the Dog Guild who happens to be a miniature poodle with a high-pitched squeaky yelp and Adorabelle Dearheart, a lady who is suspicious of the intentions of all humans. She is cynical, angry, and smokes like a chimney. Beware, a stiletto heel through your foot is not the most enjoyable experience.
But, how to we find the ideal name?
Great question. How do we decide what to name our protagonist, our antagonist, and our side characters? Where do we find them? At the end of this post, you will be on your way to find the ideal name for your character using a mixture of my ideas and links to various name lists.
Here come the ideas…
Friends/ family/associates. I’ve named one of the characters in my current WIP Bob. Short name, right? While it doesn’t represent his physical stature (he’s tall and fit), it suits his voice – not big on words, short sentences, to the point verging on abrupt. The funny thing is, it’s only just occurred to me when writing this post that I did that. My mind subconsciously helped me along, I guess. Except for the height, the name and traits are those of a long-time friend. But let’s keep that between you and me. Ahem, moving right along…
Someone in one of the Facebook groups suggested watching the credits at the end of movies for interesting first names and surnames – great idea. In my last post, I mentioned the Olympics as a source of interesting names. So…
- Pay attention to the names around you, what you read, and what you watch on the telly. As an example – Australian female author of The Widow of Ballarat is Darry Fraser. Awesome first name. Her book is worth a read as well.
- The White Pages telephone directory, of the paper kind. Someone who is not in tune with modern technology may still have one.
- Try a modern name spelled backwards. It doesn’t work for many names, but it could be an option if you are stuck for ideas: Robert turns into Trebor, which also happens to be a variant of Trevor. April to Lirpa (I googled this one as well – it’s a traditional Vulcan Melee weapon, who knew?) Sarah – Haras, I’m figuring these names could be suitable for characters in a spec fic or Sci-fi story.
- Planet names
- Gods’ names.
- Regal names – Prince, Princess, Queen, Tsar, Earl, Duke, Caesar – excelent first names.
- Surnames as first names – there’s an idea. Smith, Jones, Harrison, Gregson, Cooper, and Taylor. Those last three names were the actual names of the children of my son’s daycare mum. I used to joke they sounded like a company of solicitors. Try it. Cooper, Gregson, and Taylor – Solicitors. By the by, Gregson (boy) and Taylor(girl) were twins.
- Occupations as first names – Hunter, Archer, Smith
- Add ‘son’ as a suffix to those occupations and other names, and you get – Smithson, Gregson, Tannerson, Johnson, Cookson, Bakerson. You get the idea.
- Famous surnames as first names – Jagger, Priest, Hogan, Irwin, Bana, Gibson, Greer, Fisher.
- Add an extra letter to change the modern spelling and pronunciation. We already do that with some names: John, Jon, Jan; Kurt, Curt; so, let’s try – Larry to Larris or Larry to Larrit. I think I’m onto something here – Barry to Barrit; I could see this as a surname or even a Sci-Fi or Spec fic character’s first name.
- In her series, Black Magician Trilogy, Trudi Canavan named some of her characters after animals she’d created for her book. I know that’s not an idea of mine, but it’s still an excellent idea.
More ideas, this time with links.
- This first one is a list of last names and their meanings, categorised under genre –https://blog.prepscholar.com/unique-cool-last-names
- Timeless cute names and their meanings – https://www.romper.com/pregnancy/traditional-baby-names
- Old fashioned/traditional names including what they mean and their origins –https://nameberry.com/list/466/Old-Fashioned-Baby-Names
- Traditional medieval names and includes a small amount of general history. If you’re looking to choose something that fits your character’s trait, you could google the meaning of the individual name. https://www.babynamewizard.com/archives/2016/10/75-genuine-medieval-baby- names-with-enduring-style
- This cool site lists Viking names, their meanings, and some history – https://en.natmus.dk/historical-knowledge/denmark/prehistoric-period-until-1050-ad/the-viking-age/the-people/names/
- Irish Names and their meanings – https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/100-irish-language-first-names-meanings You can find similar lists of baby names for most nationalities.
- Gemstones – Some of these are already in use – Ruby, Jett, Jasper, Amber: https://www.babycentre.co.uk/a1026021/baby-names-inspired-by-gemstones
- Flowers – for girls: Lily, Rose, Daphne, Jasmine, Daisy. Flowers – for boys: Basil, Ren, Jared (Hebrew for Rose) https://www.todaysparent.com/pregnancy/baby-names/beautiful-flower-names-for-your-baby/
Add some Australians into this list – Euca (from Eucalyptus), Murraya, Grevillea, Waratah (just an idea).
- Names inspired by colours – Skye, Forest, Cole, River, and more are here: https://wehavekids.com/baby-names/The-Full-Spectrum-of-Baby-Names-Inspired-by-Colors.
For fun, I googled ‘Weird names,’ and surprise, I found a site.
- This site features boys’ names such as Arrow, Basil, Ash, Cedar, Deacon. To be clear, it does say Weird names ‘we think are awesome’: https://www.mamanatural.com/baby-names/boys/lists/weird-boy-names/
- And this one for girls’ names – https://www.popsugar.com.au/parenting/Unusual-Girls-Names-39774087/ and includes names such as Waverly and Merritt.
As you can see by the links I’ve provided, you can google any name based on subject, country or genre. There are also a few sites around that are name generators for Alien names and super hero names etc. Well, I hope this is of some help. It’s helped me and some of the sites I’ve listed are now on my saved reading list.
*Any links listed are not sponsored.