Naming Characters – it ain’t that easy

Posted 9-15-18

Don’t be fooled – naming characters is more difficult than it would seem. Well, I think it should be if you’re doing it right.

Some authors insist on choosing unfortunate, distracting, or uncomplimentary names for their characters, making the story difficult to read or enjoy. You know the ones I mean:

  • a modern-day protagonist with a nineteenth century moniker such as Gladys or Herbert.
  • a sci-fi hero in the far future with a three-part name only a linguist can figure out.
  • a fantasy epic requiring a pronunciation guide for the MC’s (which, I am sorry to say, seldom helps).

I have my own set of “rules” for creating character names which takes additional time, but I believe it’s worth it. The top three are: make the names easy to pronounce, be certain they fit the time and place of the story, and match them to the character’s personality. The last thing I want to do is cause a reader to reject my story because they can’t get past my attempt to be “creative”, cute, or mysterious.

For me, reading serves as entertainment, so I tend to pass on books that force me to work hard to understand them, including character names. I suppose I’m missing out on some great literature by being so picky, but life is short and my brain cells deserve a rest when I’m reading.


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4 responses to “Naming Characters – it ain’t that easy”

  1. H.R.R. Gorman Avatar

    I think you’re absolutely right. What sucks is when you’ve written a book then realize afterwards that people don’t like the names. I’m toying with whether or not to change the names in the book I wrote.

    1. Alexander Elliott Avatar
      Alexander Elliott

      If it’s an eBook, this would be a relatively easy fix. I’ve gone back and made many alterations to already-published books based on reader feedback. If the names are a hindrance, by all means change them! Sometimes it’s hard to think of your creation as “flawed”, but if the criticism is valid a good author will be more interested in quality than their pride. I think you’re on the right track.

      1. H.R.R. Gorman Avatar

        I’ve not published it – I want to go with the traditional route, and I’m almost done editing. Some people have really enjoyed the names while others did not. So it’s a toss up; were the people who didn’t like the names being overly harsh, or were the people who did like the names too lenient? Where do I fall in there? How many of them need to change, if any?

        So it’s interesting.

      2. Alexander Elliott Avatar
        Alexander Elliott

        Tough call, but I’m glad you are addressing it now. Assuming your beta readers have voiced concern, your future editor/publisher probably will too. Now’s the time to fix it, so I hope you are able to decide what to do. Readers have no idea what authors go through!!

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