NaNoWriMo – 15 – Character Naming

Without a doubt, one of the hardest things a writer has to do, other than plot a book, is aptly name the characters.
~~ Sherrilyn Kenyon


Character Naming Sourcebook

A resource by this title has been around since at least 1994 under the Writer’s Digest umbrella. A second edition was published in 2010 with author Sherrilyn Kenyon listed on the cover. Now this year, the book is offered by the author herself, and is listed as a first edition.

The book has a 23 page introductory chapter with information and points to consider when deciding upon names. It gives overall advice and then delineates the particular conventions related to genres. There is also a section that covers naming places and things. I found it to be concise and well-rounded – two important factors for me. The majority of pages in the volume are lists of names specific to a wide variety of groups, 46 to be specific. There are indices in the back that group all the names by general definitions such as Fiery, Pure, Wise, etc.  The fact this is electronic, makes it easily accessible.

Following are a few of the points Sherrilyn makes.

Most naming techniques will work no matter what you are writing.
However, you might wish to keep certain things in mind, that are genre specific… For now, here are ten major guidelines that transcend genre.
1. Capture the persona.
     Don’t arbitrarily decide on a name… spend time with every character… it is the first link the reader will have to your story.
2. Choose a name in keeping with your character’s heritage and personality and/or trade.
3. Make the name harmonious.
     Vary the syllables between first and last names… Don’t make every character in the book a four- or five-syllable name, just the main characters.
4. Keep the character’s name consistent with his or her time period.
5. Keep the character’s social status in mind.
6. Use nicknames.
     If you have a character that historically or culturally has to have a horrifically bad name such as Horatio Hornblower, you might wish to use a nickname for them. With a little imagination these can be played very well. One of the best examples is Stephanie Laurens who uses nicknames to add an additional layer to her characters. In her best-selling Cynster series, all the men have traditional English noble names such as Rupert, Sylvester, Harry, etc., which are not romantic names by any means.
     So, to stay historically accurate yet give her readers names that would be more evocative and sexy, she nicknamed every one of them with names such as Scandal, Devil, Demon, etc., but the neatest part about this is that none of the names are given for the reason the reader expects.
7. Vary the names of characters,
     If you use names that look or sound alike, it can be confusing to readers.
8. Remember the genre.
9. If you choose a name that breaks the rules, explain it.
10. Avoid the names others have made famous.
     Try to stay on top of naming trends in your chosen genre… Use your character names to your advantage. Let them help you develop your story… How a character feels about his or her name is a goldmine of character development just waiting to happen. Never be afraid to be creative. Remember, regardless of what you’re writing, this is your world. These are your people. Make them your own.

–> 25,005 <–

Kenyon, S. (2014). The Character Naming Sourcebook (1st ed., p. 733). Sherrilyn Kenyon.
Sherrilyn Kenyon’s web site is here.

For the most part, this blog is about reading and writing m/m romances, but there are a few personal reflections, some writerly information, and a bit of writing practice. Thank you for stopping by.

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Posted in NaNoWriMo 2015
3 comments on “NaNoWriMo – 15 – Character Naming
  1. jaffakintigh says:

    I enjoy the character-naming sessions. With an eye to how I’ve spread names across the alphabet so as to not have too many “B” and “J” names, I will create pools of 20-30 female names and 20-30 male names varying the ethnicities. For last names, I’ve borrowed from a variety of sources: lists of nearly extinct names, walks through multi-ethnic cemeteries. . . Then when a character arises, I “feel” for the character among the smaller pools I’ve gathered.

    • Those are great ideas. I’m struggling to name the characters in my WIP (NaNo). I didn’t plan ahead and now it is something I’m trying to do in odd bits of time. The only name I have with certainty is one MC. After this, I’m going to give your methods a try.

      • jaffakintigh says:

        Best of luck to you. Let me know how it goes. I also keep an alphabetized list of all characters by first name and again by last name so I can see if I’m leaning too heavily into a certain realm.

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