Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Name Game

Giving birth to a new character is like having a new baby. You want to care for it, nurture it, but most importantly, you want to give your character a good name. You obviously want to give a good name to your bouncing baby girl or boy. You think very carefully, think of the characteristics of your child, even consult family and friends, and in the end, make the choice that you like and feel will suit the baby.

The same goes for your characters.

What Doesn't Work?

If your main character is a penguin or a peacock, please do not give the name Petunia, Pearl, Petal, Patty, Patrice, Patricia, Paul or Paula, or even Penelope.
Likewise, if your character is an owl, steer clear of Olivia, Oscar, Opal, Opie, or Otto.
If your character is a jellyfish, don't even think of Jerry, Jelli, Jene, Janet, or Jane.

Do you see where this is going? Paula the Peacock, Patty the Penguin, Otto the Owl, or even Jerry the Jellyfish don't inspire much in the way of creative thinking.

Whether your charcter is an animal or a human, it's most important to think of what you want to say with a name. Just as our names say something about ourselves, your character's name will say something about him or her.

So What Does Work?
Obviously, that's a harder question to answer. That's up to you and your character. What characteristics does your character possess? What do you want to project about her or him? And what names do you like? J.K. Rowling chose the name Harry because it was one of her favorite names for boys. But what does it also say about him? It's a rather common name, not very distinguishing. But that's good for Harry. He believes he's a common boy until he gets his letter to Hogwarts. Readers are able to relate to Harry because we feel that he's one of us (except that he gets to go to a magical school). Can you imagine what the books would be like if Rowling decided to name her main character Draco, for example? Not the same, is it?

On the other hand, the name Artemis Fowl really stands out. This, again, is on purpose. Artemis is supposed to stand out. He's not one of us, he's a mastermind criminal.

I recommend purchasing a baby name book with lots of names from traditional American to Zulu and everything in between, preferably with meanings to the names. You can also use the internet to search names. Choose them carefully and wisely and you'll really see your character come to life!