Friday, March 16, 2012

Choosing Names In Fiction

Names. It's hard to write fiction without them, yet I seem to find a lot of names that just do not fit.


Names—for people, places and technology--should fit the genre and setting of your manuscript. If you are writing a story set in modern times this is fairly straight forward. A little bit of research on the region in which the story is set, and you will have a good idea what names are common.

If your story is set in a multicultural city you can use character names from almost any culture—as long as they fit the character. However it is not a good idea to populate an entire novel with overly eccentric names. I am sure you know a few Kalexs and Tarkans but most of your friends are probably Wills, Davids, Katies and Sarahs.

If you want more name diversity, remember people may be called by a nickname, or their last name. Both can be a strong indication of character—so make sure they give the reader the right impression. A strict school principal wouldn’t go by S.J and a housewife wouldn’t go by just Wilks if it was her last name, though she might go by Mrs Wilks.

Some people can’t think of names. There is a simple solution to this: babynames.com. Any other baby naming site will do just as well. If you don't have the internet, your local library or bookstore will have ample baby naming books.

However what if you are writing in a fantasy or sci fi setting? You can use a fantasy name generator. Google.com will find you plenty. If you are using a generator, use one that has the capacity to create a range of names in set ‘types’ so the names remain simular for each culture.

Different races and different cultures should have different styles of name. Perhaps your elves have very long names like Eler’tisali Vijtda’bei Alfaso’ina. Perhaps your intergalactic alien overloads all have hyphenated names like Had-je, Wil-tor and Abe-las. However Kal’dath’han and Buttershire probably shouldn’t come from the same village unless there is a very good reason for it. In the same thread, a very different name can mark a character as an outsider.


There are other things to keep in mind when using fantasy names. One is pronunciation. Often I find three people reading the same name will each pronounce it in a totally different way so always run a new name by a few test readers.

Another tip, regardless of genre, is to keep a file somewhere that you write down names you like. Once you build up a decent collection, your own personal name file can always be your first port of call when trying to find a new character name.


Copyright Talitha Kalago. 2003.

Edited. 2012.

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