Choosing Character Names

Choosing character names for your story/novel can be a lot of fun… or incredible pain in the butt. Some writers obsess about it, trying everything to get the names absolutely right, to the point of being unable to outline or write the story until they choose a name that fits the character perfectly. Others don’t bother that much, and will instantly know how to name a new character. Usually, writers encounter both of these scenarios.

Names are important. Serious academic discussion/research show that words in general have power to shape people’s view of the world. And names are often important part of people’s identities. So it’s understandable that a writer wants to pay attention to this.

A character name should be, first and foremost, appropriate to setting (such as time, place, culture – unless you purposely decide against it). It should also be easily distinguishable from other names in the story. But other than that – and this is where it gets tricky – it should “fit” the character.

What a “name that fits” actually means depends on the writer. Some search for name meanings/origins and try to find the one that fits character’s personality or physical appearance. Others pick names based on people they know (and love… or hate). Some simply try to find a name that “sounds right”, for whatever reason.

I choose character names based on synesthesia.

I strongly associate letters with colours (same goes for numbers, months, days in a week, etc.) It’s always been like that for me. I guess all people do, but it’s quite strong with me that it often makes it seem like a name doesn’t fit the person just because it starts with a “brown” letter and they have blond hair.

Needless to say, my synesthesia influences the way I pick names for my characters. While I try my best to make them appropriate to the setting, the main thing I do is to see (literally) what name goes with their physical appearance (meaning: hair, eye or skin colour; sometimes the colours they like to wear). This way, I often end up with completely generic names, but they fit the characters (in my mind at least), because the colours are right.

For example, my main characters in the last year’s NaNo were named Sarah and Tom. “S” is yellow or light brown, which fits her hair colour. She has green eyes, so a name starting with a green letter (I or K) would also fit. “T” is a blue letter. Guess Tom’s eye colour. And so on. I even had huge problems with myself for naming a light haired guy Mark. “M” is a red letter. So I gave the guy red car to drive (and parade around). Yes, I go that far.

Similarly, if there’s a character that somehow ends up with a name that’s not appropriate for his colours, I will make him wear said colour often. I won’t necessarily describe this in detail, but it will be there in my mind.

I guess this method is as good as any other. But not many people mention using it, and sometimes I wonder if it’s a bit limiting. Or if it makes you pick a name that “sounds perfect”, but isn’t fully appropriate for your setting.

6 thoughts on “Choosing Character Names

  1. Paula

    That is an interesting way to pick character names. :) I’ve never heard of associating letters with colors, so obviously it’s not something that I do. :) Honestly I find it very hard to picture anything! If I don’t see someone for a long time I forget what they look like, which sucks! So, I definitely couldn’t use the color method. :) In what little fiction that I have written, the characters come to me with their names, or as the character develops their name comes to me. It’s not something that I’ve struggled with, but I haven’t written that much either.

  2. Mira

    For some reason, I thought everybody associated colours with letters, at least to a degree.

    Your method is the easiest one, I think. Some people obsessed way too much when it comes to names, and it’s unnecessary, if you ask me.

    After all, many people have names that don’t fit them. Names are chosen by parents, not your characters, so it’s more realistic to have a name that doesn’t really fit your character. Doing an extensive search for the name with the right meaning, origin and “feel” is pointless, if you ask me, but I understand why some people do it.

  3. serpentus

    “After all, many people have names that don’t fit them. Names are chosen by parents.”

    Ha ha. It reminds me of the 6-foot tall guy named Tiny.

  4. Mira

    Exactly. Now, character names shouldn’t be too distracting, but I don’t think authors should overthink this. Some do like to search for name meaning, which is fine, but I’m not really into that approach.

  5. Alee

    “For some reason, I thought everybody associated colours with letters, at least to a degree.”

    I don’t. That’s definitely something new to me.

    I choose names by which names I like or think fits the person’s personality/person.

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