Naming your characters

Like a lot of writers, it’s important to get our main characters’ names right early in the story. The name becomes part of the character, and the longer the character has had that name, the harder it is to change it later on.

Case in point. We wanted to name a character ‘Clemence Gardinier’. Because we were on a military ship she’d be known by her surname. Gardinier suited who she was, and we liked the French tonings.

But we already have Gardiner as a major secondary character in another book. So we found another French surname, Favager. Favager means blacksmith, while Gardinier means gardener, so they’re both names based on occupations, and yet … neither of us can get used to Favager as a character. We’re going to have to rename her altogether.

We have a couple of baby name books around the house. I’m sure most writers do, but I have to admit that my favourite name site has been, for a long time Behind the Name, along with its associated Behind the Surname.

I like this site because when we name characters we’re often looking for ‘locality’ name. Maybe Irish names, or Scandinavian names or Eastern European names, so it’s easy to pick a starting point.

Once you have a name you can look up the meaning, because sometimes it’s not just the name, it’s what the name means.

There are other interesting things you can use too. We use the random name generator a lot for minor characters.

The name element page is great for world building, especially when you’re writing fantasy. For example, the Germanic ‘alf’ means a supernatural being, so if we were writing a fantasy we might add ‘alf’ to the start of all our supernatural beings.

Choosing names in science fiction is easier in some ways and harder in others. To me, science fiction is more an amalgam of names than anything else. If you have free movement between worlds you’ll end up with names like we have in our own time. A mixture of names from everywhere.

It’s much like when you stay behind after a movie to watch the credits, and there are names from seemingly every country in the world rolling up.

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