Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Choosing Names in Fiction

Using Names Wisely
By Debbie Roome

Names are important to God. In Isaiah 43:1 (Amplified Bible) He says, I have called you by your name; you are mine. Imagine that – God calling us by name. What an incredible thought. What amazing intimacy to have our Creator call us by name.

Names also mean a lot to people and we use them to communicate. Sometimes we whisper them, sometimes we shout them, sometimes we change them into nicknames that crush or amuse. Names are vitally important in real life so it makes sense that they are important in fiction too.

Choosing the Right Name
Name choices in fiction should be suitable for the character in question. The sounds, connotations and origins of names all send a subtle message to the reader

Where to Find Names
Useful resources are books of names for babies, telephone directories and the internet. Write a list of names and surnames that catch your attention and then experiment by putting them in different combinations.

Age-Appropriate Names
Many names fit into a certain age group. For example Mildred, Ethel and Pamela are not in common use today but were popular 60 years ago. Make sure that the name fits with the age of the character.

Name Associations
Be careful of names that have strong associations with celebrities or famous people. For example, a hero named Adolf or OJ would probably not work. Likewise, an innocent young girl called Madonna would also be a questionable choice.

Characterization through Names
Certain names have stereotypical connotations. Think of a girl-next-door character. Names such as Sally, Jane or Susan fit her image. A sultry seductress will have a more exotic name such as Burgundy or Bianca. A strong male character will normally have a strong name like Blake or Chad.

Foreign Names
If the story includes a foreign character, be sure to research their name properly. For example, if writing about a woman from India, determine whether her name should be Muslim or Hindu. If possible, check with someone who is familiar with the culture in question.

Don’t use Similar Names
When writing fiction, make sure that the names sound different and start with a different letter. Stories that include Janice, Jane and Jenny or Nick, Mike and Mark will be very confusing to the reader.

Watch out for Initials
If a character’s full name is given, be careful that the initials don’t spell something that will detract from the story. If a judge is called Garth Andrew Sutton, his initials will be GAS. This can add subtle comedy in certain genres but make sure it is appropriate.

First Names and Surnames
Main characters normally are given a first name and surname. Minor characters usually get by with just a first name.

Nicknames Reveal Character
This is true in life and true in fiction. A nickname can add strong characterization and add interest to a story. Think of titles such as Pickle, Stumpy, Flea and Runner.

Names are an important part of fiction writing and with careful consideration and research, can strengthen characterization and reveal background. It is worth spending time on choosing the best names possible.

Debbie Roome works as a freelance writer from her home in New Zealand. Visit her at Debbie Roome or read some of her work at Suite 101 , Take Root and Write and Faithwriters.

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