Monday, May 16, 2011

Naming your Main Characters, or Nom d’un nom d’un nom

Naming my characters is one of my favourite writing-related activities. But it’s also a chore I obsess about. Names have to be perfect. Who wants to read about a romance between Silas Twingletoe and Kezia Birtwhistle? I didn’t even make those names up. They’re from a Lucy Maud Montgomery book called Magic for Marigold. The beginning chapters of the novel focus around finding a name for a newly fatherless infant. Needless to say, it is my most read part of the book.

Main Characters

It goes without saying that the hero and heroine are the most important characters in your novel. They get to do all of the fun stuff, like argue, misunderstand each other, have sex, and fall in love (not necessarily in that order).

I spend a lot of time finding the right names for my main characters. My own peculiarity is that I prefer names that sound good as well as have an interesting meaning. For instance, I search out names that are from different cultures and see if I can produce a name that means something. For my hero, I want a name that means ‘brave’, ‘loyal’, or ‘stalwart warrior’. Or all three. I also have personal preferences.

I find that I gravitate towards names that start with A, C, and L. Don’t ask me why…there isn’t even an L in my name! I just find that names that start with those letters sound strong or forceful. Hard sounds also help. Short names that end with ‘n’ or ‘m’ sound tough and masculine (but sweet and sensitive inside, of course!).

For my heroines, I want a name that rolls lyrically off the tongue. My preference is for feminine names that start with A, L, S and V. Again, that’s just my personal tastes. However, for female names, the endings are often what give the name its ‘feminine’ character. Names that end with ‘a’, ‘l’ or ‘y’ are easier on the ear and distinguishably feminine, even when you get creative with the name itself.

Which leads us to my method of choosing names for my main characters.

To find these names, I pour over baby name websites. Cheesy, I know. But where else are you going to find thousands and thousands of names, arranged by gender, first letter, meaning and language of origin? All of these aspects play a part in my ultimate choice. This blond hero needs to have a strong Teutonic name? This brunette needs a softer Arabic name? I know just where to look!

Last names work the same way, although these are often found on different websites, usually dealing with genealogy. Just Google the language/ culture you want, with “surnames” and you’ve got more choices than you can handle! To filter, try a specific country of origin.

With all of these names, I like to experiment. Adding an ‘a’ at the end of a masculine name might give me a suitable name for my heroine. Changing the first letter of a name might reward me with an appropriately tough-sounding hero.

Experiment. Try these tips and make your own tweaks to them.

Photo courtesy of Pixomar at

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