Last December, Misfit Dahlia did a Monday Pep Rally post about naming characters. I've been thinking a lot about it lately--especially with NaNoWriMo upon us--so I wanted to bring the topic up again.
Character names are a weird thing. Sometimes they come to me right away, sometimes they take a while. Sometimes I have to go hunting for them. Sometimes I'm not even looking them up for a specific character, I just sit on name websites and search for new names I like. Sometimes a character has been named something for so long, it hurts a little when I realize I need to change it because it doesn't fit the story. (Hello, old sci-fi books I started writing when I was eight.)
The weirdest part of it all, though, is that every technique and thought I have about naming now didn't all come to me at once. That's one of those things that I took for granted, and figured, "Well, yeah, that's simple. It's just naming." I didn't realize how wide I could stretch my naming reach until I really tried. There are so many different avenues to take, and all of them are perfectly viable. I mean, come on--I get half my names from watching movie credits.
|Names can do a lot for a character...|
I think a lot of people forget that characters' names don't have to have a special meaning or even any subtext. Sometimes characters get certain names because that's just their name. It's like when you meet a person and can't imagine them with any other name than the one they have.
|...like adding color to a picture.|
A lot of name meanings aren't as blunt as that. Some of them aren't even found in the name itself, but why it was given to that character, like passing a family name down to a child. In my debut, the main character, Alex, was named by her parents after Alexander the Great.
Then, sometimes, they just have names. In my NaNoWriMo novel, the two narrators are Sam and Valerie. I'm not particularly attached to those names, and I didn't pick them for any significant meaning they may have. Those were just the names that fell on the page when I started writing about them. Maybe it was a subconscious decision based on their personalities--Sam sounding gentler but stalwart, and Valerie sharp and maybe a little caustic--or if their personalities were based off their names, but that's what they are.
Character names can be fun and they can be frustrating, but in a way, stories thrive on them. Your main character's name can form the whole atmosphere of the book, or it can change the formation of the characters themselves.
What about you, Misfiteers? How do you pick names for your characters? How do you know they're the right names? And are there any names you're particularly fond of?