Saturday, December 16, 2017

What's my name

As a writer, one of the hardest tasks I face, and you may find this part of the process stress-free, but I find it, sometimes daunting but certainly hard, to come up with names for my characters.

Tom, Dick, and Harry, or Jack and Jill just don't cut it for me or my characters. In my novella, REVERSION, my Antagonist changed his name three times before finally accepting the name Zaffariah Gnash -that name, he liked.

Sometimes the Character chooses their name like ol' Zaff did, but for my Protagonist, Derek Chase, I had his name picked out a long time ago and just had to let him tell me what story to tell.

(yeah, I talk to most of my charters..... and they talk back to me)

The name and the character's personality should fit, in my opinion.

Take Paul Guilfoyle's Character, for example. On the TV show, CSI. He plays "Jim Brass". I like that name because he is a police detective and his badge is made of brass -I reckon. I have always placed the term Brass and authority figures together. His name fits his character. I strive to create that type of continuity in my characters and their names.

Another example, In the epic TV mini-series "Into The West" Matthew Settle's character name was Jacob wheeler and his occupation was a wheelwright back in the 1800's. If you have not seen it, and enjoy a good western, this is a fantastic movie.

The right name will help me build that character's back-story which will, in turn, help me build that character's traits, strengths and faults.

But I don't want a name that is too complex either. That might have the opposite affect for me as a writer and to my readers as well. It's tough to find a good balance to the naming of characters.

Here are just a few tips that have helped me with naming some of my characters.

Time-Relevant Names:

How old is the character and what time does she live in?
Is you story based in biblical times? Is your story in the future or a post-apocalyptic time when your characters have nicknames like "Needles" or "Pipe"?

Google is a great research tool that many writers use, or at least should be using. You can research popular names from the '20s, or the 1800s. Use the Census bureau or the Social Security site which are both great tools for finding names.

If your story is in the more recent past, somewhere from the 1800s on up through present day, pick a full moon Friday and go to an old cemetery -at night. There you will find some great names for your peeps. Be respectful while you are there, otherwise, you may pick up a ghost or two.

Location Location Location:

As in real estate, an important aspect to think of, when naming your characters, is the location. Where does your story take place? 1800s Florida may have different names than 1800s California. Florida has a lot of Indian heritage which influenced the names back then so keep that in mind.

Here is hat I found doing a quick search:


 Does your story take place on another planet? If so, you may need to make up some names, unless we humans have migrated to that planet. Or if you invent some sort of translation device that converts alien names into earth bound versions you won't have to worry about it. In my Sci-Fi Western, I set it up that, when those from Danzor migrated to Earth, they were allowed to pick their own Earth name for their geographical area.

Be Real:

Keep the story and the names real to the world you have created. Your character's names need to fit the world you created for them. For instance, in the movie DUNE, the names weren't Sam, James or Ruby -I don't think. Their names fit the world they lived in:

Piter De Vries
Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV
Shadout Mapes

There was still a Duncan and a Paul but most of the names fit the world. So keep the names real to the world they live in.

What do you write?

Along with all these guidelines or suggestions, keep the overall question in the forefront of your mind. What genre are you writing? Science fiction, Fantasy, Romance, or Historical Fiction? Think about the genre when you create the name, as well as the location, the time... it all flows together as one.
Does your story take place on the plant Danzor, or a million leagues beneath the surface of the water on the planet Ursa Major in the yer 3214? A planet of your own design? In the forest? On Mars?

Your character's names need to have a feel and a sound that is appropriate with the genre.

Avoid Rhyming

If you have a character named Susan, don't create another character Susie.
Avoid names with the same first letter like Michael and Matthew.

Again I use Reversion for my example:
My main characters are Derek and Zaffariah. Earlier I mentioned that Zaff's name changed several times. He started out as Dolan. But in the editing process, I noticed that my two main characters both had names that stated with the letter "D" -Derk and Dolan. Nope that wouldn't work, and since I was committed to Derek, I changed Dolan to something else and then changed it again to Zaffariah.

Same Name -Every Time

I have the hardest time when narrating with what  I call my characters. Sometime I would refer to him as Derek, and sometimes Chase. When writing dialog, you can switch between first and last name, depending on which character is speaking, but be consistent with the character who speaking at that time.

For instance, I noticed in the military, they address each other by their last name. So if a military person is talking to my hero, he would address him as Chase. Most of the time. But when narrating, I would write Derek every time. And for names like Michael, or Phillip, pick one and stick to it. Michael, or Mike, or Phil.


I also try to avoid using obviously famous people's names. If you have a rogue cop that works with a German Sheppard, sure call him James, but if you have a tall singer with long black hair, please don't call her CHER. Or a pop singer named Justin, or a singer from the 60's named ELVIS.
Also, Avoid iconic names that have already been used, if you can. Like Shane -Alan Ladd's character in the movie "SHANE" or Gator -one of Burt Reynold's characters. I may keep a picture of the actor close by so I can keep their image in mind, but I strive to come up with creative names that fit their personality.

I hope this helps.
See you on the shelf.