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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Conrey

What's In A Name...

So here’s the thing about writing: you need to name your characters.

It sounds easy—you named your kids and your pets, right? But there are rules to follow when you name the characters in your books. Of course, I didn’t know there were rules until I broke them.

First Rule: Don’t name two characters with names that start with the same letter.

Second Rule: Try not to name more than two characters with names that have only one syllable.

Third Rule: Do not, for the love of all that’s holy, name two characters by the same name.

Fourth Rule: Do not even think about changing the name of a character midway through your story, and if for some unfathomable reason you do, make nice with the Find/Replace function on your computer. You will find it invaluable.

I’ve been told that the easiest approach when naming characters is to use the names of people you know in real life. Which sounds reasonable. Unless, of course, you are writing about serial killers ….

The people I know don’t have fascinating names. But that didn’t stop me from trying to name a character after my very first and very only blind date. Elwood. What was I thinking? What were his parents thinking?

So maybe naming characters based on real people isn’t the way to go.

But not to worry. There are research sites and reference books and phone books and movie characters and high school and college yearbooks to peruse.

There’s also Twitter.

Just for fun, I put the question out to my fellow authors on Twitter, and while my question was received with enthusiasm, because, you know, there’s nothing writers like to do more—besides write—than help other writers, their responses came with specific caveats.

Time period is essential: you probably shouldn’t be naming your protagonist Blue or Ocean or Autumn if your story takes place in the eighteenth century.

You should also consider the geographical region where your story takes place. I wouldn’t recommend using the name Ashley Wilkes if your character lives in the North and fought in the Civil War.

Everyone had suggestions and I loved them all. The most fascinating answer came from an author who writes historical fiction. Her reference is gravestones. She walks through old cemeteries and gathers names like fairy dust in the mist, which almost makes me want to write historical fiction.


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