A King Named Sue: Picking Perfect (Character) Names

Writersdontcry NamesNames have power. And no one knows the power of names like those in the public eye. Why else would Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta go by Lady Gaga, Samuel Langhorne Clemens by Mark Twain, and Frederick Austerlitz by Fred Astaire? One of the first things you learn about someone, names can help you stand out or blend in. They can be the difference between coming off as authoritative, elegant, or cutesy. They speak to your heritage, and people assume they say something about your character. And as a boy named Sue knows, if you have a strange name, the reactions it causes can have a huge effect on your life.

It’s amazing what a difference a name can make! Based just on a name, we, unfairly or not, get an instant impression of someone. And even though we typically don’t get to choose our own names, what we choose to be called still tells you a lot about a person. Does your character go by one, two, three, or four names? Is a title part of that name? Does he go by a nickname, a nom de guerre, or just his last name? Does he flip the hell out when another character calls him “Mr.” instead of “Dr.”? All of these things tell you something about a character.

There’s a lot to consider when naming your characters. But luckily, if there’s one thing writers have sunk more research into than perfect first lines, it’s perfect character names. So, pulling from the knowledge of the ages, here are just a few things to think about that should help you zero in on the best names for each of your characters.

Is the Name Common?

The Damiens of the world will never escape that evil child’s shadow. The Lancelots all have quite a reputation to live up to. And that knight-errant named Madonna who adventures with a priest named Obama? Forget about it! By virtue of being on the unusual side, and being owned by significantly famous people, those names are now officially off limits. As are the names Drizzt, Belgarath, Katniss, and those of other famous fantasy people. Unless, of course, you are specifically referencing them.

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Comments (3)

Pop culture(and the mocking of pop culture) makes good names sometimes. After being disgusted at Square-Enix's lack of creativity in naming FFXIII's main character, Lightning, I decided to name my rogue Radiance. But just to turn up the obnoxious factor I made her parents clerics of Pelor and they named her Radiance of Pelor in the hopes she would one day join them in the priesthood. ^_^ Creating a back story is great for thinking up a good name. My second rogue(I'm addicted to rolling rogues!) got named Freya Something because she was adopted by tinker gnomes after her parents were killed in a shady deal involving gnomish goods of questionable quality(there was an unfortunate explosion you see). Tinker gnomes are known for their rather long and tedious but entirely accurate names and so the Something is really a 30 page novella that other races wouldn't be able to handle.

Posted by: Cynthia | Monday August 27, 2012 at 3:43 PM

Cynthia: Agreed, pop culture can make some fantastically funny names for games. And fun story about Frey Something! Backstories are my favorite resources for coming up with names, for sure. Erin M. Evans, in Brimstone Angels, for instance, has two tieflings with Dragonborn names because they were raised by a Dragonborn. I love the sense of history that can give a name.

Posted by: Susan J. Morris | Monday September 17, 2012 at 12:16 PM

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