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A Character By Any Other Name

Charles Dickens was very good at naming characters: Ebenezer Scrooge, Martin Chuzzlewit, Seth Pecksniff…While the rest of us can never hope to compete with such a great character-namer as Dickens, we can make an earnest attempt to not be overly bad at it. Names need not be overly creative to have a good ring to them. Harry Potter, for example, is a perfectly ordinary moniker, but it has ingrained itself in the imagination of the populous so much that hearing either part on its own calls to mind the whole. Or maybe that’s just me being an obsessive nerd. Either way, coming up with a good name, whether it’s completely pedestrian or totally out-there, is an important part of character development.

Sometimes names just hit you–for instance, the two ghosts in “Ravenfeather” (the ‘published masterwork’ I keep talking about, for you newbies) just had to be Samuel and Charlotte. Such a moment of serendipity has not occurred again for me; naming takes a bit of work. Since I tend to write stories set in far-away or nonexistent places and times, most of my names are of my own invention, but I don’t like to pull them out of thin air. I often raid the shelves of history and legend for inspiration, or plain old loot. Jennet from my novel is named for the heroine in the Scottish legend “Tam Lin.” (Fun fact to that effect: Hrothgar, the original dwarf king in the Inheritance Cycle, is also the name of a human king in “Beowulf.”)

One of my favorite other resources for names is Behind the Name. You can search by meaning, country of origin, even starting and ending letters. There’s also loads of fun stuff like name days and random name generators. Behind the Name is especially useful if you have a certain kind of name in mind and want to see if such a name exists. A simple Google search can yield a lot, as well. I’m working on a concept for a Poe-ish universe that could become the setting for some short stories, a novel, or maybe even a comic, and a search for dark-sounding names yielded this list, and this one too.

What do you find most important about a character’s name, or do you not think it really matters? How do you come up with names for your characters? Tell me about it in the comments!

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2012 in Writing

 

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