Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Choosing character names: Guest post from Nadia Jones, freelance writer and blogger

A few weeks ago, Nadia Jones sent me an email and asked if you could do a guest post on my blog. I said, sure, why not--just pick a relevant topic and we'll see if it works for me. Nadia sent me this well-written and informative piece on what do when you can't come up with a good character name.

So here goes: Thank you Nadia!

5 Practical Ways Young Writers can Find Fictional Character Names
No matter if you're in a college creative writing class or writing a fictional novel or novella just for fun, one of the first hurdles you will have to tackle during the creative process is establishing strong names for your characters. Some writers believe that character names are one of the most important elements of storytelling.  After all, not only will a name help solidify your character's personality and thus make the character (and entire storyline) more relatable and believable, but character names can inspire a generation. While the young adult book Twilight  isn't the best piece of literature to reference,  it  "inspired" its audience so much that two of the principle characters— Bella and Jacob— made a huge splash with popular baby names in 2011. That said, choosing the right character name(s) is important. While some experienced writers just have a natural gift and know exactly what they want to name their characters the minute they put pen to paper, other young writers ( like myself) struggle coming up with the "perfect" name. But whenever I hit a roadblock, I use the following sources to help me get the ball rolling. Hopefully they'll help you too.
1. Baby Name Books/Lists. Let's get the most obvious source out of the way first—baby name books and lists. They can really help a writer out, especially if he or she is trying to come up with a name that fits a certain time period. For example, the Social Security Administration has a database of the most popular baby names throughout the last few decades. Some are even organized by state and territory.
But don't choose a name because it sounds "pretty." Remember the name needs to "fit." That said, it would be wise to look up the meaning of the name as well, so that you know whether it truly matches your character. Look at the spelling too—a unique spelling of a name can suggest your character's cultural background.
2. Hollywood. Whether you stay in the theater to check out the ending credits, get inspiration from a TV character (or even a soap opera) Hollywood can really come through for you. However, it's extremely important that you stay clear from giving your character iconic celebrity names—those that the public easily recognizes and can only identify with one person. So don’t choose Madonna. The only time giving your character a name like that is if it's part of the storyline—maybe your character's parents were obsessed with the singer in the 80's.
3. The Obituaries. It might seem a tad bit morbid, but taking a glance at the obituaries can really help you come up with some stellar character names. It might even inspire some storylines too—some lived fascinating lives.
4.  A Phonebook. The internet might be the most popular way to look up phone numbers and addresses, but phonebooks still exists and can be viable sources. So the next time you get one delivered to your home or college apartment, save it for a rainy day. You can simply flip through the pages until a name speaks to you or search via letters.
5. Magazines/Newspapers. Last but not least you can find inspiration in newspapers and magazines. Sometimes an interviewee might have an interesting name, but if you really want more options it's best to look at the contributor's section. This can potentially be a gold mine for appropriate names.
My biggest advice: Even if you're not in the midst of creating new piece of work, always be active and jot down names that you like in a journal or on a digital document—people you meet in real life, names that you hear in a movie, etc . Over time, it should serve as a "name bank" so the next time you need a character name for your novel, you have something to reference to.
This is a guest post by freelance writer and blogger Nadia Jones. Nadia enjoys sharing her knowledge on topics of education and higher learning. She offers online college advice and guidance to readers throughout the blogosphere. Reach her at

1 comment:

  1. I have baby name books all over the house :D It used to freak my husband out early in our marriage. I like the phone book too, especially for last names. I have a hard time with those sometimes. Great list!