Character Names Dos and Don’ts

by Tim Kane

Unless you write your story with a first person narrator who lives alone, you’ll need to find names for the characters in your novel. This may seem simple, but it can be tricky. Falling into name pitfalls can seriously distract a reader—maybe even causing him or her to put your book down. What follows are some dos and don’ts for character names.

Readers always relish names with meaning. Remington Steele sounds strong, just like the detective he was. Tally Youngblood, from Uglies, always keep track of things (as in a tally marks) and she’s naive (thus the youngblood).

See if you can make your name link to a Biblical character or event. Maybe something from mythology or literature. I personally try to find names related to horror movies. I have a character named Orlock after the vampire in Nosferatu.

Stay away from names that alliterate. These confuse the reader. Multiple names that start with the same letter make it difficult to keep track of who’s who. Perfect example is from Lord of the Rings. You have Sauron and Saruman. Both evil. Very confusing. So stay away from Henry, Hannah, Harold, etc.

The same goes for rhyming names. Most people don’t even thing they have rhyming names. Consider Jenny and Louie. Just like alliteration, this can cause confusion for the reader.

Make it Easy to Pronounce
There’s a reason most fantasy writers stick with Greek gods over Celtic or even Norse. The Greek gods are relatively easy to pronounce. Try reading Llue Llaw Gyffes. Don’t go with clever spellings of everyday names. Instead of Jymmi, just use Jimmy.

Keep your character names simple and straightforward. Then your readers can concentrate on the story, instead of checking a list of characters.

About Tim Kane

Tim Kane is a writer of fiction.
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3 Responses to Character Names Dos and Don’ts

  1. Have you ever read the Worm Ouroboros, by E.R. Eddison? There’s a great example of bad character names. He made up the characters when he was fifteen and insisted on keeping them when he wrote the book as an adult. My favorite example is Lord Goldry Bluszco.

  2. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday 03-28-2013 | The Author Chronicles

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