When naming your characters it’s tempting to give your friends, family, or coworkers a chance at their 15 minutes of fame. Before indulging in the name game consider:
1. Names have many implications such as status, education, religion, nationality, culture, age, etc.
2. Short names with hard sounds such as Max, Kurt, Nick, and Zena are often used for the bad guys (or gals)
3. Two syllable names and two part names are typically used for children or to portray child-like qualities: Bobby, Cathy, Jimmy, Lulu; Sally-Jean, Bobbi-Jo, Jimmy-Ray
4. Single names, multiple names, hyphenated names, and initials imply importance: Cher, Madonna, John Philip Sousa, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gertrude Hart-Taylor, Charles Miller-Wright, FDR, JFK,MLK
5. Names can indicate ethnicity such as, Maria, Juan, Collin, Eileen, Anthony, Lisa, Nigel, Gretchen, Vijay, or Abdul
6. The spelling of a name can imply age or character traits: Smith vs Smyth, Elizabeth vs Lizabeth, Rose Ann vs Rosanne, Lisa vs Liza vs Lissa, Carl vs Karl
7. Names must fit the theme or time period of your story such as, biblical, Civil War era, southern, European, aristocratic, etc.
8. Names reflect public figures or famous families during specific time periods: Franklin or Eleanor, Elvis, Shirley (Temple), Douglas (MacArthur), Amy (Carter)
9. Nicknames are used for extroverted characters: Barb, Liz, Bill, Joe, Rick. They can also be used to reveal characterization: Shorty, Babe, Honey, Slim, Hot Stuff
10. Use only one common name (Jack Jones) and only one exotic name (Theodora Ginasia-Peacock) per story
11. Use unique names for each character, not: Jack, Jim, Jon, or John in the same story, nor Mary, Marie, Maria Marla, Maureen
12. Last names follow the same rule, do not have: Jamison, Johnson, Jenson, and Jepson in the same story.
13. Names can add special meaning or importance, as with grandfather/father/son; Sr, Jr. The III; use of family names as a first name (Fulbright, Hathaway); unisex names (Taylor, Parker, Madison); flowers (Azalea, Buttercup, Lily); gems(Ruby, Pearl); nature (Summer, River, Plum); days or months (Tuesday, Friday) (April, May, June)
If you are stuck on a name two helpful resources are The World of Baby Names and the US Census of Common Names
Readers make an association with names based on their unique experiences, however, stereotyping is alive and well. Who do you picture when you hear the name Bertha?
Valerie Allen, author, playwright, and speaker, writes fiction, non-fiction, short stories, plays, and children's books. She is a popular speaker at writer's conferences, libraries, and community events using her book: Write, Publish, Sell! Quick, Easy, Inexpensive Ideas for the Marketing Challenged 2nd Edition.
Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second edition of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The multi award-winning second edition of The Frugal Editor; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor .