How do you create character names?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Writer.

Creating effective character names can be a challenge.

Man writing.

Writing.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

I struggle with the process of naming the characters in my novels. Because of those struggles, I have discovered a few tricks. Like most every aspiring writer, I was a reader first. Recently I’ve been doing a great deal of reading out loud to my family. In doing all this reading, I discovered that the way some authors name their characters create problems. First, let me tell you the things I try to avoid doing when naming characters and my solutions to these problems. At the end of this post, I will list a few resources that I use to create character names.

Don’t use character names that will confuse your readers.

I get very frustrated when I’m reading a book, and there is a group of characters who appear in a scene who all have exceedingly similar names. It’s very unclear to read about Betty, Barbara, Becky, and Bethany who meet a group of men named Daniel, Danny, Doug, and David. It takes the reader a while to get characters straight in their head. I try to avoid having two characters in the same novel whose names start with the same letter. When working on a novel I keep an alphabetical list of the characters, and I avoid multiple names which begin with the same letter.

Recently, during November, I began a first draft of a new novel scheduled to be published in the spring, which I’m titling “Planned Accidents.” This book will be episode two of the Arthur Mitchell Mysteries. Book one was Casino Robbery. I quickly discovered I had created two characters both named Howard, one in each book. Howard number two had to be renamed so that I don’t confuse readers who have read book one. I’m now convinced that I need to maintain a master list of characters for all the novels in a given series.

Avoid names that are gender confused.

Some names can either a male or a female. I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among some authors to use nicknames that shorten the character’s name. The protagonist’s name is Rhonda, but on the next page, people are talking about Ron. Ron is dating Dan though I can’t tell from the context if Dan is short for Daniel or Daniela.

Avoid names that readily call up a particular image.

Watch out for creating a bridge playing protagonist named Donald and then having to write a paragraph in which Donald bids both trumps and no trumps. Calling a boy wizard Harry Porter is a terrible idea. While it may feel like a shortcut to use a name that readily conjures up the image you’re looking for, using these kinds of names create inauthentic, cardboard characters.

Avoid names that sound too much like a real person.

Whenever I write a villain for a novel, after creating their name, I do a quick web search. I don’t know that I’ll catch every problem, but I don’t want to write an evil villain and accidentally use the name of a candidate who is currently running for political office. I also avoid names that are too close to recognizable historical figures or sports figures.

Avoid racial and ethnic stereotypes.

Have you’ve ever picked up a spy novel and noticed that all the characters have either German or Russian names? Do all the stories about organized crime appear to be filled with Italian surnames?

Avoid names that are hard to pronounce.

In this millennium a great many people are doing their “reading” by listening to audiobooks. I discovered from my family’s nightly reading aloud session, that some names look great on the page, easy to recognize. But it’s very frustrating to keep encountering words that are difficult to pronounce. I think writers should consider what their characters names will sound like when spoken aloud when choosing those names.

So, what are the solutions to all these naming problems?

  1. Maintain a master list of characters for your novel or series and don’t repeat similar sounding names.
  2. I often create the name first and then write the description and biography of that person. If you’ve already cast the character, it can be challenging to find the name that fits them.
  3. If you create a new name, do a web search to make sure you haven’t selected the name of a prominent person in some other country. Also, avoid creating names that have a negative meaning in some language you are not familiar with.

To create names, I use several sources.

Behind the name is helpful for finding first names. You can look at lists by gender, ethnic origin or merely browse the complete list, looking for a name that appeals to you. I’m currently working on an outline for a fantasy book, my first try at writing fantasy because the characters will have connections with medieval Europe I’m looking at various Old English and Scandinavian names for my characters.

For last names, I use a related website Surnames; behind the name.

Another useful resource comes from the census department. You can look at the top first names by the decade of birth. Here’s the link to the list of the top names from the 1880s.

Sometimes I mashed names up.

In the past, surnames were often created by taking the father’s first name and adding an ending. I created unique new names for some of my characters, by taking the first name from one ethnicity and combining it with an ending from a different nationality. Back in the 1970s a lot of parents were creating unique names for their children by altering the spelling or combining two first names. I do the same thing for some of my characters last names.

Any other ideas on how to create the perfect name for a fictional character?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Advertisements

Why do you want to write?

By David Joel Miller, MS, writer.

It is essential to look at the reasons you want to write.

Man writing.

Writing.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Lots of people say they would like to write, but from having that thought, to producing a finished piece of writing, can be a long and complicated process. For you to get a good start on this writing path, it is crucial that you get clear on why you want to write.

Some people can’t stop themselves from writing. Throughout their life they find themselves writing things down. Sometimes these people write in journals, diaries, or in this era they may be writing on social media or a blog. If you’re one of those people, keep writing. Your biggest challenge will be to figure out what to do with all those filled notebooks or computer files.

If you’re who has been telling yourself, you want to write, but nothing ever gets recorded, the first step is to get clear on why you’re doing this. Ask yourself if any of the reasons for writing below fit you.

You want to be famous.

A few, very few, writers become famous, most of them must wait until after their deaths to reach that celebrity status. Unless you’re a voracious reader, you probably will have trouble remembering the names of more than a few living writers. Stephen King and J. K. Rowling come to mind.

Ask yourself how many politicians you know by name? How many sports stars, movie stars or reality TV show actors do you recognize by name? If your primary goal is to become famous, you probably want to pick something whole lot easier than putting in the hours you will need to practice, to get even passably good at writing.

You want people to notice you.

Whether you’re an introvert or extrovert writing is primarily a solitary activity. If you crave social interaction, writing is not likely to get you there. You would get more attention from teaching a class to a room full of students then you’re ever likely to get from writing.

Much of the attention writers get is the negative kind. When you write, you create something in isolation and then release it into the world. To continue writing you need to develop a thick skin knowing that the more you do, the more likely you will be to get negative reviews and criticism.

You want to make money.

In almost every occupation there are a few outstanding successes, people who make phenomenal amounts of money. Don’t believe all the hype from the people selling classes on how to write and become rich. If you work extremely hard, you may be able to make a passable living from your writing, but to become an overnight success often takes years of practice.

To reach financial goals from your writing, you will need to work a day job to support yourself while you work at your night job creating your art for many years before your writing can pay off. In most salary surveys the average income writers earn from their writing is below the poverty level.

Don’t misunderstand my comments about how hard it is to make a living writing as meaning that you must starve for your art. Good artists can and do make a good living from their art. But to paraphrase a rock ‘n’ roll song, “it’s a long way to the top if you want to write.”

To express your creativity.

Writing is absolutely one way to express your creativity, but there are so many others. If your goal is to be creative, it may be worthwhile to explore some of the other mediums.

Writing, especially long-form writing, as in novels and nonfiction books, is still popular, but it’s having a hard time competing with the rapid growth in new media. There’s a lot of creativity these days going on in creating videos and programming video games. Writing involves creating with words, and you need to ask yourself how skilled you are in your use of words.

You express yourself best in words.

Some people express themselves with motion, dancing or demonstrating. Other people are very good at expressing themselves visually. If you must describe a building to someone, would you prefer to draw them a diagram or do you want to offer to take them on a tour? The writer must be good at observing that building and then painting an alluring picture using their vocabulary.

You are passionate about something.

People who are passionate, believe in a cause, find that the way they spread their enthusiasm about ideas best is to write about them. Political movements often begin with a writer spreading an idea. If you have a consuming passion for your subject, whether that’s cooking, travel, or anything else, you may find the best way to share that love for your topic is to write about it. When you genuinely care about something you can’t help sharing your passion for your subject.

For me, the writing journey began because of my passionate belief that people with mental or emotional disorders, addiction, or alcoholism, could recover and have full, happy lives. My writing has expanded from writing nonfiction about recovery to also writing novels about protagonists coping with problems in their lives.

You have a story you need to tell.

At heart writers of fiction are storytellers. If you have a good story to tell the writing technique disappears beneath the story. The best nonfiction books use stories to illustrate the principles they’re describing.

If somewhere inside of you there’s a story pushing to find its way into the world, I don’t see how you could not write that story. The final form of the story may not be a book, it might be a video, movie, or a live stage play, but the starting point for all those story expressions is that script someone wrote describing the story and how it needs to be told.

Thanks for reading another one of my posts about things I’ve learned along this journey toward becoming a better writer. If you have ideas about other reasons to write, please leave a comment below. If you have a question for me, you can either included them in the comments section or send them to me via the “contact me” page. Thanks for allowing me to share with you some of the things I am learning about writing.

You’ll find more posts on this topic under – Writing.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.