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It’s All In The Name

library by anndrTime for another Creative Writing 101, but this time I’d like to focus on something a little different. I had thought to write an entry dedicated to Character Creation for novels, but that in itself is a hugely diverse topic to explore (and I’m going to need a lot more coffee than I have to do that!). So I’ve decided to take baby steps…or at least keep the training wheels on a little longer.

Let’s start simple. This entry is purely designed to highlight a few points, hopefully share my own experiences, and provide a few laughs (at my own expense, of course!).

So what do you call your characters? Potentially, this can be one of the hardest parts of writing. Imagine yourself a parent, a proud mother or father to a newborn babe. Your child has its whole life to look forward to, anything is possible! Now, imagine if Cletus was to become President, or Montgomery was destined to paint the skin onto KFC takeaway meals…you get my point. Names define your characters, and if you can’t find one that fits you’ll be umm’ing and ahh’ing over the character as you write instead of doing the important thing…the ACTUAL WRITING.

Druss by Edwrd984A name has to fit the character’s personality. This sounds obvious enough when you consider Druss from David Gemmell’s works. The name is short, sharp, simple, but most importantly: blunt. Druss is a ‘what you see is what you get hero’. Axe first, politics later. His name suits him to the bottom of his iron-shod boots. But what if we were to call him…Eugene? Need I say more?

Names need to stick to the theme of the story, and where each character comes from. Take Arlen Bales and Leesha Paper from Peter V Brett’s Demon Cycle series. Each from village backgrounds set in a fantasy-medieval world; the names suit their origins (and coincidentally their families’ trades).

The same could be said for the time frame setting. I’ve yet to meet a ‘Sean’ in an Ancient Roman novel, nor an Odysseus in a crime thriller (though that’d be wicked! Time to add that to the ‘to do’ list).

Names don’t just need to be pronounceable, they need to be memorable. This is a massive oversight particularly in fantasy, where writers squeeze as many vowels into a character’s name as possible. Eieieiouaiue is a damned sight hard to read, let alone say, though it’s memorable (better luck trying to spell it from memory though). Sure, our sword-wielding hero Bob might be pronounceable enough…but truly memorable? I know a ‘Bob the Builder’ not a ‘Bob the Swordsman’. Even Eugeune the Axeman could take him on!

Knight of the Reliquary by Michael KomarckThink of your favourites. I dare you! Go on – and no peeking, no checking. If you read this, respond with three names each (yes three) from three of your favourite books. So that’s nine names in all. Now, ask yourself if it was the character’s actions, the story, or the name itself that helped you remember them.

Personally, the most memorable name in my mind is one from TV: Princess Consuela Banana-Hammock. Honest, it’s not something I’ve just made up. It was on Friends. Might just call one of my kids that…wonder if they’ll make President? (Not likely – I live in the UK!)

Title image by anndr.

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It’s All In The Name, 8.8 out of 10 based on 9 ratings
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14 Comments

  1. Lorraine Powell says:

    Jean Tannen, Locke Lamora, Bug – Gentleman Bastards
    Rubeus Hagrid, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin – Harry Potter. J.K. does names brilliantly.
    Elizabeth Bennet, Fitzwilliam Darcy, and…damn, I can’t think of a third (well all the Bennet sisters but they are pretty interchangeable, just good old English names) I want to remember the ridiculous cousin but these old brain cells just won’t let me. – Pride & Prejudice.
    Kvothe, Kote – Name of the Wind (& yes I do realise they are the same character.)

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Great article!
    Hmm, I have too many favourite books so I will just choose one’s with names I find easy to remember.
    His Dark Materials Trilogy: Lyra Belacqua, Lord Asriel & Mrs Coulter. All very memorable, in my opinion, and very fitting for the characters.
    LOTR: Pippin, Gandalf, Bilbo…well, heck. I could name any character from the trilogy. Tolkien was the king of naming.
    ASOIAF: Jon Snow is such a good, easy to say name that flows from the tongue. As for the rest, I actually find most of the first names to be difficult to pronounce and remember. It’s the last names that have the impact: Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, etc.

  3. ali says:

    Gandalf, Arragorn and Samwise- Lotr
    Rand, Mat and Lan- WoT
    Elodin, Kvothe and Iax- King Killer Chronicles

  4. Vincent Quill says:

    Frodo, Aragorn, Gandalf, Galadriel etc. Tolkien is a goldmine for more than just world building. All the names fit perfectly and are memorable.

  5. MattJoeTom says:

    Kip (The Black Prism), Royce (Theft of swords), Morlock (The Wolf Age) and Flin Rider/Eugene (Tangled) <- totally a play on what this article is about! haha

  6. Mike Mercer says:

    Raistlin Majere….named my son after him.

    Sturm BrightBlade

    Tanis Halfelven…

    And can’t leave out good ole Tas. (Tasslehoff Burfoot)

    All from Weis and Hickman’s Books.

  7. Gosh this is hard. I’d have to say:
    Harry Potter: Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape, Lily Potter and (Surprise, couldn’t keep back another name) Hermione Granger (love her last name!!).
    Lord of the Rings/Hobbit: Thorin Oakenshield (utmost brilliance!), Samwise Gamgee (he really is WISE), and King Theoden.
    Artemis Fowl: Holly Short, Mulch Diggums (love his name!), and…Artemis Fowl himself.

    Gosh I love names.

  8. Gray says:

    I was planning to write an article on this very same topic, but alas didn’t have the time. But I must say, you’ve given some very important pointers. However, as a budding writer, the problem I face most often is originality, usually I come up with the perfect name for a character, only to later discover it has either been used in a fantasy book or it’s quite similar and appears to be a rip-off. This causes the reader to immediately relate your character with a character of the same name from another book and suspect your originality.
    Copyrighht Violations Ensue.

  9. Yuan McFarlane says:

    Bellatrix Lestrange – JK Rowling. ^_^

  10. John Jeremiah says:

    The Dark Tower – Roland Deschain, Eddie Dean, Randell Flagg
    Roland sounds like a gruff serious dude, and Deschain (the way it just rolls on your tongue) sounds smooth and important. Eddie Dean sounds like a guy who makes a lot of jokes and MIGHT be a total screw up. Randell Flagg sounds like a badass guy.
    The Lord of the Rings – Aragorn son of Arathorn, Gandalf Stormcrow (or one of his many other names), Tom Bombadill
    Aragorn sounds royal, and son of Arathorn just makes me think of biblical kings. Gandalf has so many names, which makes me think that he’s way older than I can imagine and has had plenty of legends behind him. And Tom Bombadill sounds elegant and unpredictable.
    Atlas Shrugged – Hank Rearden, Dagney Taggert, John Galt.
    All of Ayn Rands name fit in with their moral code. If their a lazy greasy freeloader, their name sounds like it belongs. If they’re a hard working person who means everything they say and speaks with absolute meaning, the name fits too.

  11. Hunter Woodley says:

    Mistborn: Kelsier, Sazed, Wax and Wayne (so these last two are 2 different characters, bringing my total to 4, but their names belong together)
    Lord of th Rings: Aragorn son of Arathorn, Gandalf the Grey, Samwise Gamgee
    Kingkiller Chronicles: Kvothe, Ambrose, Felurian

    Great post by the way.

  12. MJ says:

    Harry Dresden, Bob the Skull, Nicodemus Archleone- The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
    Alastor Moody, Severus Snape, Harry Potter- Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
    Vishous, Wrath, Zsadist- Black Dagger Brotherhood by J.R. Ward
    Great article! And I enjoyed reading the comments 🙂

  13. Kerry says:

    Despite HP and LoR being on my “favorite’s self” everyone else has been doing them so here are some others:

    The Black Magician Trilogy: Sonea, Fergun and Akkarin. Fergun and Akkarin make you want to despise them.

    Septimus Heap Series : Septimus Heap, “Uncle” Alther Mella and Maximillian aka Maxie. Jenna would have made the list if the name wasn’t partly fixed in my head already due to my sister having a similar name.

    Inheritance Series: Eragon, Saphira and Brom. I can’t help but smile during Brom’s parts.

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