Writing Fiction: Pitfalls And Tips For Naming Your Characters

Do you enjoy finding names for your characters when you’re writing fiction? Many authors don’t. Moreover, naming your characters has pitfalls.

In one writers’ group meeting, an author told us about her cousin, who also writes fiction. They were chatting about character names. The cousin admitted that she’d never bothered checking her names with Google before publishing.

The cousin went home and did searches on her character names. To her horror, she found that the antagonist (a nasty villain) in her latest cozy mystery shared a name with a real, and prominent, person in the the town in which she’d set the novel.

Unwittingly, she’d created too many similarities between the real person and the fictional character. She changed the name immediately, as well as the names of several businesses—and she set the novel in a fictional town as well.

Do you use Google to research names? Google (or any other search engine) can help you to avoid embarrassment at the least, and legal concerns at worst.

Writing fiction: your most useful resource when naming characters

Google is your friend when you’re naming characters, businesses, and places. Always check out your characters’ names in Google before you publish.

It’s also a good idea to use a disclaimer in the front matter of your fiction:

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Let’s look at other pitfalls and tips.

1. Give a nod to reality: consider fashions when choosing character names

Names come into fashion and go out again.

You don’t have to choose a fashionable character name, of course, but it’s useful to know which names were in fashion when your character was born.

Here’s a simple process:

  • When does your novel take place? Choose a year;
  • What’s a character’s year of birth?
  • Look up which names were fashionable in that year.

2. Help your readers: avoid alliteration when naming characters

When you’re naming characters, make a simple list of their names so you can check for similarities. If you have two or more characters whose names begin with the same initial letter or sound, your readers will hate you.

An example: you have two male characters. If you’ve named them Donald and David, change one of the names.

3. When your mind’s a blank: try a character-naming resource for ideas

The web offers many resources for naming characters. We’ve discussed creating character names for Regency romances.

Check out these resources, they may help:

4. Are you writing fiction? Compile lists of names you like, and develop your own system

Currently, I’m rereading Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. It got me thinking about the names Austen chooses. Why Fanny Price? What did Austen mean by that? Did Austen have a system for naming her characters?

Try keeping lists of names in the genres in which you write. Names and nicknames are important, and say a lot about a character.

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