Playing the Name Game

Do you ever play the name game?

Sitting here with my current WIP, I’m shuffling around for character names. I’m terrible when it comes to choosing names, last names in particular. I’m not sure why. I didn’t really have any problems naming my kids, although to be honest, I hadn’t decided upon a name for my second daughter until right after she was born

Some characters seem to find their own name, something that fits them right from the start. You give them a name and it fits like a glove, and that’s a good thing. To be honest, I find it difficult to change a character’s name once I’m very far into a story, so I’m usually hoping I get it right from the very beginning.

There have been a few times when I’ve stubbornly wanted to use a particular name and yet it didn’t seem to fit the story at all. Kind of like trying to shove a square peg in a round hole. No matter how much you want it to fit, it just doesn’t.

I have a book of baby names that I like to check from time to time. Checking the meaning of the names is helpful too, as sometimes that will help determine what name I end up with. Often, something on the unusual side will appeal to me as I feel it makes the character more memorable. The names I choose are not always ones that I particularly like, or wish I’d named my own kids. I’ve always secretly felt that people with unusual names seem to be recognized in the world in a way that maybe those with very common names are not. That probably sounds silly, but sometimes secret thoughts have no real basis. That’s why we keep them secret.

There are some great sites with names as well that I have bookmarked and like to check out from time to time. A quick Google search will help you track some of these sites down. Gah, what did we do before Google?

One thing I have learned from another writer is to make sure not to give your characters names that begin with the same letter as it can be confusing to the reader. I think it’s a good tip, one I like to stick to.

For last names I usually check the telephone directory or the obituary column in the Halifax paper. While at a book signing for Bitter, Sweet, one lady bought my book because I’d used the last name Burbidge for the family in the story. She wondered where I’d found the name as she said it was her last name and not very common in these parts. Got that name from gleaning the telephone book, I told her.

After I make a list of possible names I begin to narrow the list down. Deciding what would sound appropriate for a particular character and which names I can immediately mark off the list. I like to get a feel for the name, get used to in my own mind, decide if it fits in with the setting and plot before I start using it. It kind of sounds a bit more complicated than it is. Still, if it’s a main character, I want to end up loving that name as much as I do the character I’m writing about.

How do you come up with character names? Do you have any special tips about naming your characters that you’d like to share?

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