One of my favorite things about writing fiction is deciding character names. Half the time I come up with a name first, then I imagine the characters and plot. Other times, I come up with characters and plot and then start assigning names to everyone.
The writing community is torn on these two methods, I know. Some people say character, then name. Others say name, then character. Who’s right and who’s wrong? No one. When it comes to writing, just do what feels natural to you.
It’s amazing what finding a good name can do. All of a sudden, that character you only knew before as ‘Amy’s brother’ takes on a whole new dimension.
I do have a few rules I like to employ when I start this process, though.
1) No two character names can start with the same first letter. I just read a book that had a scene where four characters had names starting with ‘C’. By the end of the scene, I had a headache trying to figure who was saying and doing what. The only exception is minor characters—for that waiter who’s only in one scene, it’s perfectly fine to give him a ‘C’ name like your main character.
2) I read in one of my writing books one time that the best way to avoid soap opera syndrome (giving characters too wacky, no-one-would-ever-name-someone-that names) is by choosing an exotic first name and plain last name or a plain first name and exotic last name. Like Esmerelda Smith. Or Haley Van Der Looten.
3) Think about location. If you’re setting your book in a small Southern town, there aren’t going to be too many Jennifers or Gregs hanging around. More like Laura Lynns and Beaus. If you’re writing about a part of the country or world you’ve never been, the internet is your friend. There are tons of websites with lists of Southern names, Latin names, Irish names and any other kinds of names you need.
What are your rules for naming characters?