Why are names so important? To illustrate I've invited a friend over. Everyone give a warm welcome to my buddy, Igor.
Igor: Thanks, Lisa. it's nice to get out of the dungeon for a change.
Me: Tell me, Igor, have you found yourself hindered at all by your name?
Igor: Why YES, actually. No one ever knows how to pronounce it properly. Is it with a long I? Or an E sound? I get that all the time.
Me: Okay, well that is one very good thing for writers to look out for when naming our characters. Is it a name that's easy for the reader, or does it trip you up whenever you see it? But, Igor, what I really mean is... you know...
Igor: OH you mean the name change! Or course. I mean Renfield was nice, but it sounds more like a last name, and really that happened a long time ago...
Me: Another valid point. Writers sometimes have to change a characters name. I've had to do this myself. Not easy if you're attached, but doable with the proper care. But what I really mean is the negative connotation that goes with the name Igor.
Me: I'm so sorry! I just - I didn't mean - I-
Igor: Naw, I'm just pulling your leg! I totally get it. It isn't the most classically handsome name is it? I'm forever typecast as the dumb assistant, and that's no small part of it. But I've made my peace. I understand. Really. The world needs evil assistants. Otherwise the main bad guys would flounder. Trust me, they are so incompetent.
Me: Oh. Right. Well thank you for stopping by, Igor.
So what do we know about names?
- They should be easy to read/understand
- We should be at least a little flexible
- They can give the reader a clear image of the character, so you better think it through ahead of time!
How do we go about choosing the right ones?
- By meaning - Either one that fits the character, or something misleading and/or ironic.
- By time frame - when does your novel take place? When was the character born? Was the name Gertrude really used then?
- By origin - Where is the character from? What is his/her ethnicity?
- By sound - is the name abrupt and punchy? Slippery and seductive? Bold? Does that illustrate your character?
- By familiarity - search your memory for names that bring up certain personality types and attributes.
TIP: One place I like to search for names is Baby Names World - you can filter by gender, meaning, origin, and popularity in specific years. Handy.