tagHow ToHow to Name Your Characters

How to Name Your Characters


What’s in a name?
More than you might think, actually. Can you imagine if the hero in Raiders of the Lost Ark was named Kenny Miller instead of Indiana Jones? Or if Dorothy Gale had been Libby Lieberman?

Whether you’re writing an erotic, intergenerational saga, or just a simple description of a sexual encounter, character names are important. They imbue your characters with a certain flavor all their own and can enhance all the personality traits you develop in the course of your story. If you choose a name that grates against the character’s disposition, your readers will feel a vague annoyance each and every time that name comes up.

Hypothetical question for ya’--what if I’m writing a true story about my significant other and me?
That’s great. Many people write stories for Literotica based on fantasies they’ve had since high school, or to mentally live out a recurring daydream they have about a co-worker. If you want to keep your real names for that extra thrill that you, and maybe your sweetie, will get every time you read it, go for it.

But take into consideration that someday the truth might come out. Whomever you’re writing about might not appreciate the fact that you’ve been fantasizing about doing her in the X-rated theater, so you might want to "change the names to protect the innocent."

I’ve heard that some people just assign a name at random, intending to change it later. Anything wrong with that?
Not at all. If that method works for you, then you should keep using it. Writing is completely individual, and you may find unique routines that are successful for you. However, I think you should take the time to find a character’s name right off the bat.

For me, naming a character is much like choosing a name for a baby, except that I get to choose the baby’s personality. (In fact, I’ll get into baby name books later.) When I start a story, I find it helpful knowing what my main characters’ names are. It helps clarify their natures for me, which makes it easier to write about them and to decide what their courses of action will be in the plot.

Baby name books??
Yes, baby name books. Although they’re meant for expectant parents, they’re also excellent resources for writers with nameless characters. I picked up Baby Names from the Bible, a pocket baby name book by the check-out at the grocery store because it had some unusual names in it. But if you’re going to be writing a lot, I’d suggest splurging on a more comprehensive list. The one I use most is The Best Baby Name Book in the Whole Wide World by Bruce Lansky. It doesn’t quite live up to its name, but it’s not bad.

I have another interesting name source called, The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook, in which the names are listed according to their ethnic origin. So, if you have your heart set on a certain nationality, you instantly have a large list from which to choose.

So, what do I do? Just close my eyes and point?
Good heavens, no. And I wouldn’t suggest picking your favorite name either. Here are some suggestions on what to do.

  1. Think about your character’s personality. Is she prissy, proper, and devout? I’d think about Mary, Sarah, Abigail, and I’d reject Delilah, Lolita, and Serena. Is your hero mean and sadistic? Then Danny, Biff, or Bruce might not be the best choice. That’s not to say that you can’t make a Mary a slutty cocksucker. If you’re a good writer, you definitely can. Just be careful.

  2. Say the name out loud. Listen to see if it has hard sounds (k, g, t, d, b, p, j, etc.) or soft sounds (sh, th, s, h, l, v, m, n, w, r, etc.) A hard-hearted person might be better off with a hard name. Villains often have names with sibilant sounds.

  3. Be wary also of having two major characters that share a common first initial. Strange as it may seem, sometimes readers have trouble distinguishing between the father, Michael, and the best friend, Matthew.

  4. Just as words have connotations, so do names. "Skip," is obviously a preppy, yacht-sailing kind of guy. "Bertha" is a large woman with facial hair and a voice like a foghorn. Use this to your advantage. If you want a character to fit a certain stereotype, you might want to use a name that carries that same feeling.

How do YOU choose a name?
As I said, I use the baby name book. Sometimes I start with A and skim the pages until I find something I like. Sometimes I know the name I want right off the bat. Sometimes I have to name an incidental character, and I turn to my bookshelf, the phone book, or a magazine’s editorial staff list, and mix up names from there. I sometimes think of students I’ve had in the past (I’m a teacher.) and take a first name from one person and a last name from another. The Bible, literary classics, myths, and movies are all good sources for names.

Which ever method you end up using, take some time to make sure the name fits. I’ve taken an hour before to find the right name and not thought a minute of that time was wasted. Then again, I’m sort of anal about my writing. You don’t have to go that far, but don’t necessarily use the first name that pops into your head.

Good luck with your writing. I’m off to write about Mary, the Slutty Cocksucker!

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