Some tricks to naming your fictional characters

When I wrote my first novel I used a book on character naming. It lists male and female names, the meaning of the names, and they are categorized by nationality. You can look up names from African to Welsh. I wanted a name for a female character living in New York in 1911 who had emigrated from Ireland with her family. I looked up Irish (the book  also has popular surnames) and went to the female names and found “Eveleen.” It sounded beautiful. The name means light; gives life. I knew this was her name. It is a form of Evelyn-a name I don’t particularly like-but Eveleen had the right sound. The book also has the top ten male and female names from 1880 onward. But is that the only way to name a character?

I also have my quirks. I needed a name for my narrator in the above mentioned novel so I combined my fathers first name, for it was popular at the time, my middle name for the character’s middle name, and my mother’s family name for the characters last name. Just a small way of honoring my parents. I also used two uncle’s names for two characters. However, one must be careful as I nearly made a mistake in my second novel.

My second book was set in Hollywood in 1922. It was based on the true life murder of silent film director William Desmond Taylor. Eveleen and Chet, from my first book, are now married. But I needed other fictional characters to blend in with true life names. I picked the name of a young flapper after a friends cat. Thus Clancy was born and she proved delightful to write. This flapper even meowed a couple times. But where I got in trouble was naming two real characters, one of whom I met in her elderly years, who was part of the Hollywood scene in 1922. I used her real name. Thankfully I changed the characters name before publication because I realized it was not a flattering portrayal. I liked this elderly woman, and though I based her character on some of what she told me about her Hollywood days, I was not honoring her by using her real name, so I changed it. Guilt made me do it and it was the right decision.

The character book I referred to earlier is “Character Naming” published by Writers Digest. They offer these guidelines: 1. capture the persona of the character; 2. Choose a name keeping with your characters heritage (Eveleen); 3. Make the name harmonious-Jonathan Wright better than John Wright is their example; 4. Make the name consistent with his or her time period; 5. Keep the characters social status in mind; 6. Use nicknames; 7. Vary the names of characters-don’t use the same letter too many times for characters-you don’t want a John, a Jonathan, a Johnny, a Jimmy, etc.; 8. Remember the genre-does James Bond sound like  name for a knight in King Arthur’s Court; 9. If you choose a name that breaks the rules, explain it, (what rule-they said these were guidelines). Using my example of James Bond in King Arthurs Court, explain that Bond is a time traveler; 10. Avoid names others have made famous, like Ebenezer Scrooge, David Copperfield, Jay Gatsby. But I ask, can you not have a character named Jay Gatsby and have him tell that he was named after a fictional character.

Like I said these are guidelines to help you think about how to name your fictional children.

Loonies in the Dugout:

Loonies in Hollywood:

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