One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced since I began writing is naming characters. It’s like naming a baby, except worse, because you have to do it way more often. Some of the challenges are the same, however. Pick too bland of a name, and it’s forgettable. Select something too far out, and it’s unintentionally comical. I’m sure all of us have read a book that we otherwise liked, except that we could NOT get past some character’s ridiculous name.
For my money, one of the finest character namers in romance is Georgette Heyer. The names roll off of the tongue: Miss Frederica Merrivale. The Marquis of Alverstoke. Sir Waldo Hawkridge. Miss Ancilla Trent, just to name a few. They instantly transport us to the world of Regency England.
Outside the genre, Charles Dickens is perhaps the most gifted namer of characters in the English language: Oliver Twist. David Copperfield. Uriah Heep. The Artful Dodger. Fagin. You don’t have to ponder long to realize who is a hero and who is a villain.
I cannot claim any particular genius in this area, I’m afraid, so I resort to my bag of tricks. When I’m reading newspapers, magazines, or online and come across interesting names, I put them in a file. (A Microsoft Word file, in my case, but if you’re a fan of hard copy, feel free to keep them in a literal file folder.) I organize my potential names by ethnicity, age, and gender. I don’t use a real person’s name in its entirety; instead, I mix and match various first and last names. When I’m writing a contemporary, especially one set in a major city likely to have a great deal of ethnic diversity, I take pains to make sure that I include characters of varying ethnic backgrounds for realism. As a baseball fan, I rely on player rosters (easy to find online) as a source of inspiration for many Latino names. Movie credits are another good source. With a little effort and diligence, you can create character names that give life to your story and linger in a reader’s mind long after the story is finished.
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