Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Finding Names for your Minor Characters

How minor is your minor character? That’s the first question you will have to ask yourself as you ponder a name for the hero’s autocratic late father or the heroine’s funky best friend. The best friend may be pivotal to the story and require a name that suits her importance. However, the late father may answer to ‘John Smith’ – or at least he would if he weren’t dead!

To avoid the use of the blasphemous phrases such as “major-minor” or “minor-minor”, I’ve divided up minor characters into two categories: haute, or high, and bas, or low. I’m using these terms simply because I like to show off my knowledge of high school French J.

Haute Minor Characters

How big a role does this character play in the plot of your novel? If the best friend shows up repeatedly, both at the party where the hero and heroine first meet, as well as at the wedding where they get into a very public showdown, then she may need a memorable name that requires the same amount of effort you would put into your heroine. See my post titled Naming your Main Characters, or Nom d’un nom d’un nom ed to add link] for help with giving your major characters monikers.

As with main characters, the names of your ‘Haute Minor’ Characters should reflect their personality. Have fun with it. Here, there’s less of a chance of major scrutiny/ criticism about your choice of monikers so go wild. Be humourous. A quirky best friend (are there any other kind in fiction?) can be a Starla or a Cadence, depending on whether she likes astrology or music. Or, in keeping with our Gallic theme today, your character can be from France and be named Francois.

For surnames, refer to the post I linked to above to choose an authentic-sounding last name for your character.

Bas Minor Characters

Truly minor characters appear once or twice on the page. Think the irritating coworker, the ditzy assistant, or the sympathetic doctor. These characters may advance the plot by giving your heroine a reason to play hooky and swan about at the beach that day, or lending your hero a listening ear as he tells the tale of how his niece’s parents recently ran off and left her in his care.

Perhaps the character doesn’t appear at all but is just mentioned in passing. For example, the mean boss, the agreeable landlord, and the childhood bully can all be “off page” characters. They add detail to your main characters’ lives but the reader isn’t invested in these individuals. They are part of the background scenery and you want them to fade gracefully into it.

Choosing the names for your ‘Bas Minor’ characters is fairly straightforward. First, you decide how old the character would be, roughly. Counting backwards, figure out when your character would have been born. Exact year is not necessary at this stage, just a decade. Next, pick your character’s gender. Then you look up “most popular baby names” and the decade or year you’ve identified. Google is most helpful in this respect. No, I don’t work for them.

Hmm, my male doctor born in 1970 could be a Michael, a James, or a David. But I’m a rebel and I like to choose from near the middle or even the bottom of the field of 100. So, #88, this is your lucky day. Hello, Dr. Curtis. But, wait, unless he’s a talk show host, this use of first name as surname is unacceptable. My doctor needs a last name!

Back to the drawing board (read: Google or other search engine). Type in “popular surnames in [add country where your book is set]”. Some websites will offer the ability to refine your search for surnames based on popularity, ethnicity/ race, and alphabetically. You can fine tune to make sure that the last name sounds good with the first name you’ve chosen.

Ta da!

Dr. Curtis Cooper. Has a nice ring to it. I think I’ll use him in my next story. He goes by Curt.

Photo courtesy of Pixomar at freedigitalphotos.net

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