Naming Your Characters

In response to yesterday’s posts, I’d like to show the variations of naming your characters. These are by no means rules, but hopefully they gives you a variety of different possibilities and options. Just like naming your children, it’s ultimately up to you.

Option 1: Name through actions

“His name was O’Sheean, but they called him Sugar-Boy because he ate sugar. Every time  he went to a restaurant he took all the cube sugar there was in the bowl. He went around with his pockets stuffed with sugar cubes, and when he took one out to pop into his mouth you saw little pieces of gray lint sticking to it…” (6)

This is from All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. Self-explanatory.

Option 2: Name base on origins

A daughter named Marsha, a father named Marshal – notice that these two characters have related names, showing not only their relationships, but both of these characters are Martians, as in from or living on Mars. This is another option for writers, using cultures or origins to name your characters. In this case, it works, and it’s a nice little detail for readers that figure out the connections.

From Elysian Dreams by BJ Neblett.

Option 3: Name base on cultures

I never figured out where these names come from, and if anyone finds a related article, feel free to share. But, characters in The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord have the following names: Adafydd, Dllenahkh, Tlaxce, Maenevastraya, etc. There are also names of some characters where the first and last name are molded together such as Suyanahaneki, meaning she is from the haneki family line, but her first name is taken from the first half. It makes for very interesting introductions and adds realism to your story, by giving the characters their own languages/culture.

Option 4: Name based on occupations

This is by far one of my favorites because I’m known to do this – I can be reluctant to name my characters – and it’s very simple to remember while a defining their characteristics. In Station Eleven by Emily Mandel, there is a theatre troupe, where the musicians are named after their instruments.

“They’d left Charlie and the sixth guitar…” (43)

“Start, for example, with the third cello…” (46)

“…there weren’t actually seven guitars in the Symphony, but the guitarists had a tradition of not changing their numbers when another guitarist died or left, so that currently the Symphony roster included guitars four, seven, and eight, with the location of the sixth presently in question…” (46)

There were guitarists, flutes, violins, each with their own characteristics, including personalities and personal wars against different individual musicians. I think these names were enhanced by Mandel’s strong characterization, stereotyping the instruments and individual players not as individuals but by their relationships with each other. It’s a quick way to add depth without spending forever on each of their backgrounds or goals.

But, these are only a few of the options. Feel free to pick and choose what works best for you! And, don’t forget, as with The Galaxy Game, your characters can have nicknames. Different people can call your characters by different names, and that’s okay. It only adds to the realism.

Lord, Karen. The Galaxy Game. New York, NY: Del Rey, 2015. Print.

Mandel, Emily. Station Eleven. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014. Print.

Neblett, BJ. Elysian Dreams. Chandler, AZ: Brighton Publishing, 2011. Print.

Warren, Robert. All the King’s Men. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 1996. Print.


One thought on “Naming Your Characters

  1. Pingback: Naming Your Characters: Part 2 | writerdissection

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