The Right Name Makes a Difference! (Part 1)

Many times in writing groups and forums, I’ve come across writers who ask for advice at the time of naming their characters. Apparently, it’s a rather nerve-racking thing to do. Suggestions come and go when the piece in question has a Contemporary setting (Kate, Laura, Drake, Ava, Jack, Brett, Larry…), and there’s normally not many problems when it’s a Historical Fiction piece either (Eleanor, Lucian, William, Alastair, Gertrude, Honor, Prudence…). However, if we are talking about a Fantasy or Science-Fiction piece, most of the times the commentators remain conspicuously silent.

It could very well be because Fantasy and Sci-fi names are not the kind of name just anybody can come up with (it takes a special brand of craziness). But shouldn’t these be actually easier to create? You can name your Fantasy character anything. Literally anything, and nobody would say a thing because it’s Fantasy. It’s supposed to be weird, it’s supposed to sound funny. Writers many times overthink things and tighten the noose around their own necks simply because they cannot believe something as crucial as what to name your main character can actually be simple.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s definitely an important issue. Personally, I’m most likely to buy a Vampire Romance novel if the main character’s name is, let’s say, “Jake” or “Demian” or “Aidan.” Bring me a tall, sexy vampire named “Wally” or “Howard” or “Vernon,” and believe me, it’s not going to go far. But again, that only means that naming is an important decision.

Not a complicated one.

But let’s discuss approach, shall we? First, there are some questions we need to ask before getting into what name I want for my character. One of the basic mistakes of the people posting in the forums and writing groups was the fact that they didn’t quite knew what kind of character they were naming. They didn’t have a sense of who he or she was and of the setting in which their story developed.

Question #1: What kind of character are you naming?

This is important. Your character’s name has to go hand in hand with the plot and setting of your story. For instance, if your character is a Japanese immigrant in post-WWII America, he is most likely to be named ethnic-specific things like “Hiroshi Moritaka” or “Keisuke Hakama” or “Kyoko Morino.

The same thing applies to other nationalities and languages. If your character comes from a Turkish background, he is not likely to be named “Edward Johnson,” and if you say your character is a Highlander serving under William Wallace, then you can’t expect readers to believe that his name is “Pedro De La Cruz” or “Stefano Grazziano.”

It’s easier to investigate a little bit and use the right name, than to create a whole bizarre background story explaining why your Tuscany-born character is named “Vladimir Antonovich Chekov.

So my Answer #1 would be: Be mindful of your character’s ethnic background, nationality and language before naming. 

Another major problem was the fact that they weren’t factoring in Historical Accuracy when fishing for names. This is a very basic, yet very troublesome mistake.

Question #2: Does your name go well with the timeframe of your story?

If your story happens in, let’s say, 45 BC, and your character is a centurion under Julius Caesar, you have to be prepared for his name to have a Latin root, like, let’s say, “Marcus” or “Lucius” or “Livius.” This doesn’t mean that you can go ahead and Latinize any name on your Baby Names Book and expect it to sound right. “Peterus” is not a Roman name. Nor is “Williamus” or “Henryus.” It doesn’t work like that. Historical accuracy IS important, and you are going to be loved (or hated) because of it. Make sure to always know the historical period you are writing about quite well, otherwise, it can get tricky in the long run.

For instance, during the reign of Queen Victoria, the name “Victoria” was a popular name among parents of little girls, but since this name has primarily Latin roots, before that time it was hardly ever used in England. The coronation of the queen popularized the name, so if you want to name your character that, you have to know that you either place her during the Victorian era, or risk falling into anachronism by using it during the Regency Era or the Age of Enlightenment.

Answer #2: Research (I just love this word!) to make sure your chosen name is historically accurate. 

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— This is it for Part 1, guys. Visit PART 2 for the rest of it! 🙂

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