Books

7 tips to help you choose a name for your character

I can’t believe how hard it is to choose the right name for your characters!

The two main characters in the Relic Hunters, Finn and Aria, actually changed their names several times during the editing as the original names didn’t seem to reflect their characters as they developed. In the end, I tried to allude (not too subtly, given my readers age!) to their connection to the sea and the air through their names. My creative director (aka my son) is still adamant that Aria should be called Holly though.

Here are 7 tips to help you choose a name for your character.

1. Use resources
If your family have spectacularly “normal” names like Dave, John and Ann (as mine do), then you might need to be a bit more creative than simply adopting their names.
My personal favourite source of unusual names is the interactive course on the running machine at the gym – you get to see a constant stream of real names from all over the world. Plus it makes the run whizz past as I try to plan how to use the best names in my writing!
Baby name websites are really helpful for ideas. My favourite is http://www.babynames.co.uk because it has a fun random name generator tool. This would have given me Silas and Talha instead of Finn and Aria.
I thought about adopting the standard FaceBook approach of “your fictional name is your favourite colour and the last thing you ate” (Green Mince Pie anyone?) but instead I was going to combine my pets and schools. This would have turned Finn into “Hardy Bishopmill” – he sounds more like an American baseball player than my quirky character – and Aria would have become “Trudi Hopeman”. Maybe they will make an appearance in Book Two!

2. Don’t use similar sounding names

It’s hard for the reader to distinguish between Maya and Maria, Harry and Harvey, Tina and Tricia….

I recently read a book where the names were so similar I restarted it several times and got in such a tangle I actually gave up. It wasn’t that the book was badly written or boring, I just couldn’t sort the characters out. They were actually different generations and I am sure the author thought it was very obvious who was who, but I couldn’t keep them right in my head.

3. Readers connect better with shorter names
This is interesting as I originally thought a slightly more unusual, longer name would be good, like Evangeline or Evelyn. I was recently debating this on Twitter and other writers confirmed they would be more likely to use Eve or Evie.
In the end I did shorten Finlay to Finn, partly because it seemed to flow better, but also as a slight hint to his connection to the sea-people, just as I changed Holly to Aria (which means “air” in Italian).
4. Names can evoke an image
Detectives always seem to have strange names – from Sherlock Holmes to Artemis Fowle. This sets them apart, highlighting their unique perspective on life. Tom Brown just doesn’t sound like a great detective, although it clearly works for a schoolboy.
Some names just sound scary – what about Agatha Trunchbull vs. the ultra-sweet Miss Honey? And Hannibal Lecter never stood a chance of being a goodie.
On the other hand, down-to-earth sounding names are easy to associate with – Harry Potter could easily be your next door neighbour. Down-to-earth doesn’t necessarily mean “normal” though – Frodo Baggins is definitely unusual, but it does create an image of a  solid, dependable chap.
5. Make them pronounceable
I’ve spent entire books worrying that I am pronouncing the name wrong. I admit I wasn’t sure about Hermione when the first Harry Potter was published.
I really wanted to call the girl in Relic Hunters “Ciara”, a beautiful Celtic name pronounced Key-ra, but I worried readers might think it was Chi-ah-ra.
6. Check the history
It goes without saying you need to get the period right – girls weren’t called Sydney, Chelsea or Britney in 1901.
And Cameron was originally a Celtic boy’s name until Cameron Diaz made it a common girls name.
Again, those baby name websites are helpful here.
7. Like the names you pick
You are going to be spending a lot of time with them. OK, maybe Hardy Bishopmill won’t feature in my next book after all!

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