Guest post by Mary Blount Christian
It helps when we create name for a fictional character to first create a background--positive and negative traits, talents, skills, interests, siblings and birth order, goals, conflicting emotions, support group [oft times friends more than siblings]. We make note of their needs--emotionally, physically, and spiritually; need to receive love and to give love, to have respect from peers and self, and to learn and achieve. Just ask yourself, what kind of character do I need to handle the challenges of my plot?
I find giving them a name that seems right often makes things fall into place--is it a family name, an unusual one that may give way to teasing, a strong name or a weak one, or a preferred nickname? A good exercise is to imagine visiting the protagonist's room. How is it decorated? Any posters on the walls? Does it reflect her taste or is it in conflict? Go through the character's purse or wallet for the older characters, or the toy box or that treasure box tucked under the bed. What we keep defines us. People tend to carry their lives in their wallets--club memberships, family pictures, friends' pictures, that sort of thing.
In the November 2011 The Writer magazine, Bharti Kirchner wrote an article, "Tips for Naming your Characters." She suggests that you get to know your character first [gender, personality, place of birth, hidden traits, ideals and socioeconomic status. Even the smallest of our readers share these. In names, she suggests that you not use names that work for either gender [Pat, Robin, Chris, etc.]
As tempting as it is, it's best to not give your characters names of your kin and friends. Your job is to give characters flaws and challenges that even those yearning to see their names in print probably won't like. Names need to fit your character the way a glove fits your hand.
Other things to avoid because repetition gets boring or confusing:
- All characters with one syllable names [Sam, Bill, Jan]
- Rhyming names [Harry and Larry, etc.]
- Names all beginning with the same letter
- Difficult to pronounce or spell
You can find popular US names listed by the birth year on the web at https://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/. Most recent year is 2015.
Host's note: Looking for another ethnicity? Google it, but I hope you aren't just using random last names with no idea about the culture where you got it. ;-)
About Mary Blount Christian
Mary has more than 100 trade books published in the children's--plus reprints in Braille French, Japanese, Indonesian--and young adult field with six adult mysteries due in 2016. Follow her blog here.
Kid photos courtesy of morguefile.com