How Do You Name Your Characters?

The names you give your characters are more important than you may realize, but how easy is it to choose a name which creates the right impression of your character? Not so easy! Everyone has a different impression of common names because most readers have met Sarahs and Matts and Jennas throughout their lives. As you read those names, did particular pictures or emotions flash through your mind? They will flash through your readers’ minds. So how can you pick a name that gives the right impression? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Extremely common names can cause readers to picture someone they strongly relate to that name, which can fight against your own description of the character. 
  • Names that are spelled in an unusual way which may be hard to pronounce can cause readers to stumble over them whenever they appear in your text. Readers may even end up skipping over those kinds of names. For example, unless you’re writing a book which takes place in or around Wales or is historical fiction having to do with that area, you might want to reconsider names like Angharad or Ercwlff. Owain or Davydd might be better choices.
  • Names commonly related to something like religion will predispose your character to a biblical or innocent impression.
  • Most importantly – and this overrules everything – no matter what you name your character, whether it’s Ashley, Angharad, or Mary, strong character descriptions throughout your book will make or break not only the general impression the reader gets of the character, but to what depth the reader understands your characters. Light description of the character’s looks and traits will lead the reader to picture whatever they want. Well thought out descriptions peppered throughout the book with consistent traits and mannerisms will give the reader a clear idea of what YOU want them to imagine.

How do you choose names for your characters? What kinds of names are most common in your books?

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3 Responses to How Do You Name Your Characters?

  1. raisingdaisy says:

    Choosing character names is one of the most difficult parts of writing for me. In a writing class I took, the instructor pointed out how distracting a wrongly-chosen name can be. He gave the example of a muscle-bound hit man named Irving or Harvey (though I imagine those would be a good cover names!) or of a sexy blonde bombshell named Adelaide. I guess if a story is strong enough it might be able to overcome wrong name choices, but it would probably take time for readers to accept it and relate those names to the characters. Good post!

    • Thanks! Yes, I agree, character names are so important. There are most certainly names out there which are completely inappropriate in everyone’s opinions for certain types of characters. A football player named Herb? Not believable and, as you say, hard to overcome and relate to. I think it’s definitely worth taking the time to really think every character name through.

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