Naming characters might not seem like a major aspect to writing fiction, but it’s one of the most important pieces of the writing puzzle.
Names, when well thought out, convey elements of that character’s personality, region of birth, ethnicity. A memorable name will also stay with your readers—even after they’ve finished reading your book. Names like Han Solo and Luke Skywalker are much more memorable than, say, Dave Johnson and Bill Smith. Over the course of many books and several movies, we have a firm image of Han and Luke. Just hearing those names takes us on a journey into the future, into the deepest reaches of space. Bill and Dave, though part of a famous story, would not be easily recognizable in the name-dropping game of story fandom.
At times, I’ll come up with a name before I even have the story. There’s a personality within the name that just might have a tale that needs telling. I’ve been known to keep lists of names I think merit investigation. This is how a current work-in-progress began. This short story sprang from the idea of a guy named Elvis, who happens to look nothing at all like the King of Rock and Roll. He’s a man who specializes in finding people who don’t want to be found.
I try to choose uncommon names for my characters. Names I’ve used include:
Nola Patterson (Named after New Orleans, Louisiana)
Addison (Addie) Markley
DeShay the piano player
Jobie Pritchett (Named after Job from the Bible)
Just speaking certain names aloud will lead our thoughts directly to the story from which they come. Scout and Jem Finch. Atticus Finch. Captain Ahab. Holden Caulfield. Scarlett O’Hara. Harry Potter. Jay Gatsby. Hester Prynne. Nurse Ratched. Delores “Lolita” Haze. Big Brother. Piggy. Names carry weight. Names remind us just how good a story can be.
I’ve written a few short stories where a main character is nameless. This works in certain situations. The point in writing is to have fun with what you are creating. This lends itself to choosing names as well. How do you come up with your character names?