“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
This famous line, taken from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” has long been used as a reference to suggest that the name of a person doesn’t really affect who they are. But is this true for our characters in our own stories? Or rather, would Atticus Finch have had the same impact on the audience of “To Kill a Mockingbird” if his name had simply been Bob Jones?
Many would argue that it would not. Different cultures throughout history have put great emphasis on a name and the meaning it can hold. In the same way, as writers, we can direct the way a reader interprets our work by choosing the right name for our characters. A character’s name should not only fit their personality, but should reflect on their world.
Here are a few ideas to help find that “perfect name.”
- FIND THE ROOT. Research the root or historical meaning behind the name to match the theme or character flaw within the story. An example of this is Frodo Baggins from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Frodo comes from a Latin word that translates “wise by experience.” This name is a fantastic summary of the wisdom and growth Frodo experiences during his journey.
- CHANGE THE SPELLING. It’s difficult for a sci-fi writer to know what names might be popular in the future. Often times, names that had been trendy fifty or a hundred years ago will find popularity once again. One way to make the character’s name believable is to use a common name, but with a varied spelling. The name “Alice” might become “Alyce,” or perhaps “William” will become the unusual “Willyum.” A note of caution: Be careful the spelling won’t become a stumbling block for the reader. “Allieiss” would look cool on paper but will frustrate the reader if it takes too long for them to realize the name is simply “Alice.”
- COMBINE NAMES. Creating unique but interesting names from thin air can be a challenge. Yet, that’s exactly the sort of thing sci-fi and fantasy writers hope to do, since their stories are literally “out of this world.” An easy way to come up with a brand new name would be to combine two existing names. The names “Scarlett” and “Elyse” could create “Scarlyse.” Once again, proceed with caution: There are fandoms that have shown great disappointment because of a poorly chosen name that distracted from the story. Be sure to run your newly minted names by critique groups, online chat rooms, and other writers—not just your family and friends!
- FAMILY NAMES. Dig into your past. There are plenty of names that hold history and meaning that went out of style long ago. In my own ancestry, I am related to a set of distant twin sisters named Birda Mae and Louie Mae. As soon as I heard these unique names, I knew I couldn’t pass the chance to insert them into one of my stories. These are the types of names that have a tale to tell and will grab the attention of the reader from the start.
In the end, the important thing to remember is that the name should fit the character, should intrigue the reader (not distract or frustrate them), and should fit the setting of the story itself. Get creative and make a name that your readers can learn to love, just as much as you do.
Bio: Laura L. Zimmerman is a homeschooling mom to three daughters, and a doting wife to one husband. Besides writing, she is passionate about loving Jesus, singing, drinking coffee and anything Star Wars. You can connect with her through Facebook and Twitter and at her website, www.lauralzimmerman.com