Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Unique Character Names

“Hi, my name is…”
rural-boy-2756313_1280.pngI just went through a student assignment where most character names ended in the E sound. Some were spelled with a Y; others with IE. Not only does it get confusing with the same endings, but Gracie, Vicky, Lorie, Murphy, Bobby are also the same number of syllables. At least they started with different letters.
Varying your character names will help your reader keep track of who’s who.
But don’t just think about beginnings and endings, or number of syllables.
Think about different cultures and ethnicities.
Look at this fact: “The proportion of non-Hispanic white children in the U.S. has declined from 61 percent of all children in 2000 to 51 percent in 2016.” More from the same source here.
What about where you live? Or where you are setting your story? Who are the people there? When my daughter’s family moved to southern Georgia, my white grandchildren were the minority among a sea of black children. Where we raised our girls there was a significant Asian population. We spent a year in a town in New Jersey that had a large Jewish population. Where we live now there many people from the former Soviet Union and eastern Europe.
I’m not suggesting you appropriate anyone’s culture, but surely in your main character’s classroom or among his/her friends, not everyone will look/be just like your character.
Don’t forget religious influences.
Names may be inspired by parents’ faith or customs. Biblical names are often popular in our country. Although the US has often been called a Christian nation, that has changed too. Read some of the statistics here from 2016. And again it varies state by state. As the above link states: “No state is less religiously diverse than Mississippi.”
Popular culture can contribute to unusual names.
This site has 100 unusual or surprising baby names of 2018. Some come from TV; while others are from history; and others are names of fruit. Those children may be off to school in four or five years.
Here’s a fun resource: popular baby names by birth year.
Place names are popular.
I’ve met both boy and girl Londons. There’s Paris and Brooklyn. Austin and Hudson. Here’s a list of over 100 place names.
Consider the meaning of names.
This can be helpful in creating character traits or the ironic opposite. My name means graceful lily. I’ve never felt particularly graceful or flowerlike, but I learned the meaning when I was a kid. Your child/teen main character probably knows the meaning of his/her name, too.
Scifi and fantasy often have made-up names.
And some authors seem to go overboard into making them hard to pronounce. Sometimes names just have unique spellings. Here’s an article about fantasy name generators. Science fiction writers don’t have to feel left out–here’s one for scifi character names.
Names that almost weren’t.
Some names become household words. For fun and inspiration look at these twelve who almost were something less.

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Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Naming Your Character

photo courtesy of earl53 on morguefile.com
isz8gyWy.jpgI recently read this tweet by @nikkitrionfo “I hate choosing character names. #amwriting” And I told her how at our SCBWI Oregon retreat, @doesntmattr (an editor from Scholastic) talked about with project ideas, he just uses “Bob.” He replied to our tweets with “I could spend two hours trying to come up with a name. ‘Bob’ gets the job done.”
For me, I need the character’s name before I can move on in the storyline. Maybe I agree with what Anne of Green Gables says, “I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables In my opinion, who the character is is part of his or her name.
One of the resources I use is a name the baby book and lists of popular names on the internet. I look for names that sound right and often, but not always, check the meaning of names. Where and when a name was or was not popular can be important too.
For surnames, I like using the internet again to look up common last names. I might do it by city or state, ethnicity, and again meaning.
In real life, I’ve named dogs people names (Sadie and Quinn), but I don’t recommend doing that in a story. I think it is easier for the reader if pets have more obvious pet names.
Character Naming Resources
All these have practical tips, but this article is my favorite: “8 Tips for Naming Characters” by Dan Schmidt
@toucanic
The 7 Rules of Picking Names for Fictional Characters” by Brian A. Klems
@BrianKlems
Name That Character: Top Ten Tips” has “do”s and “don’t”s as well as samples from books and movies.
I Need Help Naming My Character!” – What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Name Your Character
This article “Tips for writers on naming fictional characters” has some interesting sections, such as “Terms of Endearment,” “Overused Names,” and “Loaded Names.”
On this page, Random Name Generator at www.behindthename.com, indicate how many given names and gender and provide an optional surname. You can choose ethnicity/language, plus extras such as Mythology, Ancient, Biblical, and labels like Fairy, Goth, Hillbilly.
There’s also a Last Name Generator, but it isn’t as flexible or fun.
How do YOU name your characters?

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