When I create a character, I love mapping out personality quirks, physical appearance, and flaws, but my absolute favorite thing to do is pick a name. A lot of thought and planning goes into a picking a name because there is so much riding on the fact that it has to “work” on so many levels. The name of a character can make or break a reader’s opinion right from the first page. I know this from my own experience as a finicky reader who will put a book back on the shelf if I don’t like the main character’s name.
When I set out to write my first and second novels, I spent a ridiculous amount of time deciding on names for my characters. The process goes much deeper than picking a name I like or settling on something that’s easy to type. All names have meaning, so its imperative to find one that matches the character’s personality and relates to the his or her ultimate journey in the story.
My favorite place to go hunting is in the pages of a baby name book. I own a few of them, despite the fact that I’ve never had a baby other than the fictional “babies” I create. Meanings of names can vary based on etymology and spelling, so its good to have at least three baby name books from different sources floating around. Baby name books not only tell the meaning of a name, but also the ethnic background of the name, which was very handy when I was looking for Greek names for my second novel.
After countless hours of paging through baby name books, making brainstorm lists, and matching meanings to the cores of each character, I’ve managed to create a cast of aptly named characters for each of my novels. I thought I’d share some of those names and why I chose them.
Noah – peacemaker. The main character is very passive (his fatal flaw), which leads to a lot of internal strife. The name of Noah suits him because the story starts with him doing what makes everyone else happy in order to keep the peace, yet he remains at war with himself. I like the irony of that, especially as he grows toward a different path. His journey is one towards placating the conflict between what everyone tells him to do and what he knows is right for himself.
Quinn – planner, enclosed dwelling. The secondary main character is a crotchety old man who has spent most of his life regretting his mistakes, hence the metaphorical connection of an enclosed dwelling. He is a loner by choice, until he meets Noah for which he plans the ultimate life lesson.
Amanda – to love, fit to be loved. I was busy creating a profile for the main character when her name popped into my head. When I looked it up and saw the meaning, I knew the name Amanda came straight from my muse. Amanda is a young girl who is very alone and struggling with the absence of her father and her mother’s debilitating illness. She isn’t a whiner, but rather a fighter who needs someone who won’t turn their back on her when things get tough. Her journey of finding strength she didn’t know she had and understanding what it means to love and be loved unconditionally ties beautifully into the meaning behind her name.
Ian – believer. The second main character put up a little more of a fight than his counterpart. Due to his true identity (which I cannot divulge), I needed a name that could easily be converted into a name of Greek origin. The name Ian stood out for its meaning as this character is the ultimate “believer” in humanity as a whole, (and Amanda, in particular). However, it also morphs to the Greek name of Iason in a way that won’t confuse the reader later on. His journey starts with believing his life is predestined towards a certain path, but ends with believing his ultimate dream is closer than he thinks.
The art of naming varies from writer to writer, but we all have the same goal of creating believable characters. Perhaps, I think a little too hard about how to name my characters, but its a big part of how I connect to them. The harder I work to find the right name for them, the deeper I have to look into their souls. In doing so, I learn how to tell their stories.
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