Advice on giving your characters distinctive names
From brochures to books, no job too large or small
Posted on Jan 20, 2013 by Steph | Tags:
How many boys’ and girls’ names are there? Hundreds of thousands I imagine. So why is it that many authors have a tendency to stick to the same rather limited pool of them? I’m also finding in my work as an editor that name duplication is a regular occurrence in novels. It’s quite common to find two Davids or two Janes cropping up in the same book, as well as some very similar surnames. I’m as guilty as the next writer. In one of my own books, I had two characters called Andy for a short while until a spot of rereading revealed what I’d done.
There’s no need for duplicated or confusingly similar names. Keep a list. Every time you bring in or mention a character, however minor, write that name down. Check it against what you’ve already got. You want to call a new character Julie Blake. But hang on, you look at your list and see that you’ve already got a Jill Hammond and a Derek Black. Julie and Jill are enough alike to cause a little confusion, particularly if they’re both fairly minor characters so the reader never gets to know them very well. Blake and Black are far too similar. Come up with a new name. Kirsty Summers, for example, is a better choice, as neither element of it can possibly be confused with those other two names.
Always go for clarity. Don’t get stuck in a naming rut. There are so many names to choose from, you don’t ever need to muddle your readers by calling them similar names. It happens in life - we all know several Johns, Davids and Pats, or Pierres, Hassans, Fatimas or Vladimirs, depending on where we live in the world. However, that is one element of realism we’d do best to keep out of our fiction. It’s too confusing.
If you’re completely stuck for a name, then I’d suggest looking up the most common first names and surnames for the country your character comes from for his or her year of birth and use one of those. There are also a few apps out there that clever people have come up with to help you so see what you can find on the Net.
For example, here’s an app for US names only. Here is a better app for popular Forenames from a number of countries and Surnames .
This is the first stage of a full character and relationship tracking app.
As with your vocabulary, be adventurous with your names and give your readers some variety.