For me, the most exciting part of starting my new novel is picking out my characters names. I feel that when I finally land on their name, the characters turn around and wave at me, coming to life. I can begin picturing what they look like, how they act and what their story will be. You want to make sure that you pick one that you won’t be sick of writing by the time your novel is over…so, I suppose, it is a good way of trying out future baby names. If your spouse happens to not like your favorite name for your future child, well, you go ahead and give your hero/heroine that baby name! I love the name “Violet” for a little girl, but my hubby doesn’t, so guess what my new heroine’s name is? When naming your character, a few questions come to mind:
Is it in the correct era? I just got a new research book in this week, Names through the Ages, that divides names by country and then by century to show what was common during the time of your character’s birth, what his/her name means and the region. I am very excited to start using it for my next book! If you want to name your character after their great-great grandmother, all you have to do is flip back a few pages. Before I got the book, I usually just found a copy of a census during that time of my character’s birth and went from there. With censuses, they list the name and the occupation, which is pretty cool and helpful if you want to have name that is perfectly fitted for the character and his inherited occupation.
Is it a popular name of the time? You know those most popular baby names of 2000 something’s lists you can find online? They have those for the 1890’s and earlier! Some writers like to use the most popular names of the time and others, the most unique names of that time, so you could use the list to either find the perfect popular name or know to avoid those names.
If it is a popular name, is it TOO famous? This is the most important question when it comes to naming your character. I knew not to name characters after people I knew, but what about those distant famous people from the past? Well, I didn’t really think too much about those distant famous people from the past having descendants that could sue me for using their family name whether I used the name in a good or bad light. To avoid being sued, avoid using super famous names in history.
Once you have selected a few names that work for the era and aren’t too famous, write it down on paper or on Word. How does it look on the page? How does is sound? Is it easy for the reader to pronounce in his mind?
For my most recent novel, I accidentally used a very famous surname and an agent suggested that to avoid a lawsuit, I should change it. I quickly adjusted it to a name that had the same amount of syllables to sound close to the original name, looked relatively the same on the page and still fit the character while not being a famous name. Another newbie mistake, but I’m learning!
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