For example, a guy just coming out of the showers in a locker room was Naked Guy.
A main character’s friend whom he worked with was Editor Friend.
A possible witness to a crime who also happened to be selling drugs was Drug Guy.
Sometimes that descriptor even ends up in the final version of the manuscript since the character is so minor he or she doesn’t need a name. Lately though, I seem to keep using these descriptors for many of my characters through draft after draft. Perhaps it’s because I need to make sure they’re going to stick around or wait until I get a sense of their personality before I take the time to properly name them.
In my current WIP, Naked Guy is actually going to stay Naked Guy since he’s barely there for long, but if the character is going to be in more than one or two scenes, I’ll go ahead and give him name.
When naming a character, I usually do and consider several things:
- I check baby name resources such as books and websites for name ideas. (I’ve provided a list of the ones I like to use at the end of this post). A baby name website is a great way to get a list of names that match specific criteria. Sometimes I know I want a name to start with a certain letter and that it should be a simple name, maybe only one or two syllables long, and several of the baby sites I use allow for these kinds of searches. Whereas a baby name book is a great way to browse for names when I have no idea what I want to use.
- One rule I try to follow is that the character name (both first and last) should not start with the same letter as a major character and, if at all possible, another minor character in the same story. I truly believe this helps readers keep characters straight when they first start a story, especially if the story contains many characters introduced early on.
- I look for a name that means something relevant to the character or that has a certain sound to it that works well (or in direct contrast) with the character’s personality. In my current manuscript, I had a tough guy and I wanted a non-tough-guy sounding name. This disparity was something that was actually mentioned in the story, so I had to look for names that didn’t sound like they fit him, or at least that he thought didn’t fit him.
- When I find a name I’d like to use, I check my name spreadsheet that has a list of character names from all my novels and short stories. I try not to use the same name or similar names that I’ve used somewhere else. And trust me, I forget what I've used where. Before I started double checking, I had two Michaels and two Marks.
I tend to go with simple names that are short on syllable length. Somehow, that just seems to work for my style of writing and what I like to read.
As a reader, what’s important to you in a character name? Something that fits his or her personality? Something relevant to the story or where the character comes from? Something you like the sound of?
For writers or parents-to-be: here are a few naming resources I’ve found helpful:
- The Baby Name Wizard: A Magical Method for Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby
- Baby Names Made Easy: The Complete Reverse-Dictionary of Baby Names
- 15,000+ Baby Names (I haven’t tried this one yet, but I’ve heard it’s good)
- An old telephone book: great for browsing for last names when you have no idea what you want to use.
Sloan Parker has been writing and playing with fictional characters for years but finally found true passion sharing stories about two men (or more) falling in love. Sloan loves to explore the lives of people who are growing as individuals while falling in love. You can learn more about Sloan and her work at www.sloanparker.com.