Friday, September 3, 2010

What's In a Name?

People often ask me how I name my characters and truth be told I prefer astrology and Greek or Roman names. No, I don't do the whole baby names site but for those writers who do--more power to you. I feel a certain kinship when I find an author with a protag named Grace. I'm sappy that way.

I think about successful YA books of recent years and the names of their protags or leading men--even antagonists. I believe that great character names make great characters even greater. And great characters make a great book amazing. Even quirky characters with great names can leave a lasting and memorable impression. One thing is for sure, a HORRIBLE name can also leave a lasting impression too--can you say, "Renesmee?"

Whether named for a plant, star, planet, ancient Greek or Roman figure, old friend, ex-boyfriend, soap opera star, musician or favorite pet; character naming can be hard and fun. It can also make or break your book. A hard to pronounce name or one that the reader dislikes interrupts the flow of your lines and story. An annoying character with an equally annoying name makes reading...annoying. Get my drift?

When naming your characters, be original but don't be hard on the reader. There's nothing wrong with Mary (The Forest of Hands and Teeth), Grace (Shiver) or Bella. Yep--I said it. What are you gonna do? How about Edward or Jacob? Hah. Bet you're really mad now, eh? And no, I'm not Canadian. Not that there's anything wrong with being Canadian.

What I'm trying to say is, if YOU can't pronounce your character's name, chances are your reader won't be able to either. Make sure you let betas or critique partners have a look and that your choice of names flows just as smoothly as the plot, voice, pacing, character development, etc. If you can read your sentences out loud and get stuck on the name of one of your characters, it may indicate a need to change it.

Below are some of my favorite character names of recently released YA books. Can you name the book?
  • Katniss Everdeen
  • Ever Bloom
  • Clary Fray
  • Katsa and Po
  • Grace Ann Miller
  • Lia Milthorpe

Write well-



LM Preston said...

I love picking names for my characters! All of the names I painstakingly look up on the internet and try to tie into their role in my books :-D

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I've always gone for the straight-up names, or ones that have some meaning attached to them, but after falling in love with Katniss and Peeta (and Tally from Uglies), I'm going to have to start stretching and coming up with some cool names. Just because I can. :)

Elena Solodow said...

Katniss Everdeen - Hunger Games
Ever Bloom - Evermore
Clary Fray - Mortal Instruments
Katsa and Po - Graceling

The last two I don't know, but I'm still giving myself four points!

Let's see...good character names. I love the name Graves in Strange Angels. I think Hermione Granger is also a classic.

My main character is named Garthea Vans, Thea for short. Kind of a weird name, but I don't think it's too hard to remember.

E. Kristin Anderson said...

Great post, G! So many good points on character naming. Another thing that one of my crit partners always picks up on in my books is making sure that your character names sound distinctive within your text. I recently started an ms and gave all my characters two-syllable names ending in a. I didn't even notice: Gina, Luca, Bekah,'s bad. In my first novel, too many characters had four-letter names, which made them blend together for my crit partner, so I changed the spelling of one and changed another one completely.

Naming characters isn't something some authors thinkg about at all -- sometimes a protag just shows up fully formed and ready to rumble. But the supporting cast requires naming consideration as well.

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