One of the most important decisions you can make about a character is their name. Whether it’s their first, middle, or last name, it imbues your character with the very essence of who they are. There are so many names to choose from, but where do you start? Or do you create your own naming culture? Do they even have a first, middle, or last name? All these questions and more go hand-in-hand with your world building.
Is your character and story set in the past or an alternate history? If the answer is yes, then I would suggest researching names that were popular during that time period and the root meaning of the name. I like to add subtext to my character names, so I find it important that the root meaning of their name be an essential part of who they are. But be careful. There are some names that were popular a century or more ago that are popular today and will sound too modern.
A good example is the name Tiffany. It is actually a biblical name, but to readers it will sound and feel too modern and put them off. Jessica is another example. It is Hebrew in origin and was used in Shakespeare’s, Merchant of Venice, though it sounds like the name of your neighbor’s daughter.
As your character grows and evolves, will their name change or alter in some way? You can approach this question in a number of ways depending on your story and world building. If your story is set in a culture where a person’s name changes after a certain age, ritual, event, etc. then you need to make sure you develop a naming system before you start writing and keep it consistent. If your root language is human-based, then I’d again suggest you study the root meanings of the names you choose to make sure they fit the character. An exception to this is if the name is meant to be ironic.
An example of this is in the movie, Dirty Dancing. “Baby” is the pet name given to an intelligent teen girl by her parents. Obviously, it’s sexist and infantilizes her; however, everyone calls her that until the end of the movie when she has gone through some life changing moments. She has grown up and made adult decisions, which leads the male lead to call her by her given name, “Francis.”
Fantasy and science fiction novels create their own naming system that is unique to the world they are building. These can be particularly difficult, time consuming, but yet rewarding to the reader. Many writers generate names using ancient languages or non-Romance languages. Others mix and match consonants and vowels until you come up with a naming system that feels right for your world.
Whichever why you choose, be sure you are consistent unless there is a logical reason for you not to be.
About Madeleine Holly Rosing (by Mark)
Madeleine is the author of the award winning steampunk supernatural series, Boston Metaphysical Society (graphic novel and prose). The original six issue mini-series is now available in trade paperback from Source Point Press.
A Storm of Secrets, Her first novel I reviewed last year,the review can be found here. She has also written anthology’s, and short stories in the BMS universe which are available on Amazon and all ebook platforms.
Madeleine is also incredibly generous with her time and support for other indie authors on social media, for we (if I may speak for the community as a whole) are ever grateful.