Friday, April 3, 2009

Selecting Character Names

Selecting character names is an important part of the writing process. It’s one way to create a picture of the character in the reader's mind without writing one descriptive phrase. What image comes to mind when you read the names Jimmy, Frederick, Howard, Emily, Juanita, and Mabel? How does your impression of the character change if you learn Jimmy has a rattlesnake tattoo on his right arm, or that Emily likes to wear leather miniskirts?

In The Robber’s Fiance, I named the female character Inocencia. Sounds sweet doesn’t she. By the end of the story, her boyfriend -- and the reader -- learns she's not the innocent her name implies.
A writing tip: If you’re stuck in a story, chapter, or scene, try changing the names of one or more characters and see what happens. I did this once, and the story took off in a new direction.
The U.S. Social Security Administration’s Popular Baby Names database is a helpful site for finding names, but be careful. It's also a fun way to waste time. :) There are four options for researching names: by birth year, by popularity of a name for a user selected number of years, by top five names by state, and by top 1000 by decade. I used the last option to select a name for a character born in the 1930s.


AVR said...

I play around with a few names in my head, but am not nearly close to writing a novel yet. Thank you for the source for names.

latisha said...

great resource. i always struggle with this. there are generational trends to consider as well. thanks for the tip about switching names. ill have to try that out.