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How Do You Name Characters?

Updated on May 14, 2012

Who Are These People?

The characters you create
The characters you create

Giving Names to Your Characters

I often get asked how I find names for my characters. It's a question I'm sure most authors encounter at one time or other. There is no big secret to it.

For my latest book, I took a family name for the last name of my main character. She went through three name changes before I finally settled on Macy McVannel for her. She will be the main character in at least three novels. The first one came out in February.

For my very first book, my main character who was killed off in the first chapter was a woman I saw in a restaurant. I have no clue what her name was. She just looked to me like an Emily Meeks. It fit the woman I saw. Buck Wise was the person who had to solve the murder. He was wise. He'd grown up in this town and chosen to raise his children there. It just worked.

I had two characters working together in my second novel. Their names had to sound good and work together. They were Jake Robbins and Rachel Adams. There was no rhyme or reason why those names were chosen.

I do an entire profile of my characters. I give them a birthdate, a home town, some kind of education or lack of education. I choose whether or not they are athletic or more academic. I give them families and quirks. Their names have to be something that will connect with my readers. They have flaws, my characters are not perfect.

I have looked at lists of baby names, I have looked at surname lists. I started doing family history research and learned there are a plethora of names in my family. I don't know of a Macy. I am related to a ton of McVannel's. It was my maternal grandmother's maiden name. Using it was a way to pay tribute to the grandmother I never knew. It's a way to honor my ancestors.

However you come about names for your characters is how it should work for you. If you are writing something that requires other world names, make them easy to pronounce. Readers want to be able to identify with your characters. They need names that they can remember and talk about to their friends. Word of mouth is the best way to get yourself known. Period names really only work in period books. Keep this in mind whether or not you are writing now or in the 1800's. Today's names were not even thought of at that time. You can find lists of period names, too.

If your character is a flighty blonde do not name her Raven. It won't work for your readers. Character names need to match the characters you are creating. Is your character strong or weak, that might have something to do with what name you give them. You want them to be memorable so they need to be names that make your person easy to remember.

Make a list of the names of people in your family. You might choose a middle name, or a last name. It might be a current generation or several generations removed from you. Make a list of names you've heard of and like. Add to your list, subtract the names you've already used. Delete the ones you no longer like. Make it a working list. I rarely write about people in my life although some of my characters may have traits that I've run across.

What ever you decided to name your characters, know that they are names you will have to live with for as long as your work is in print. Good luck.


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      Rebecka Vigus 2 years ago from Johns Island, SC

      Sum it up by saying something like: Italians are an interesting group of people who enjoy good food, conversation, who welcome strangers, and a relaxed atmosphere. I'm sure you can embelish that into a paragraph. Good luck

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      Nona 2 years ago

      I need help with a conclusion paargarph?I am typing an essay on Italians, and need help on the conclusion paargarph.Here is the essay:ItaliansItalians are warm, welcoming people, who love to relax, celebrate, and socialize with family and friends. Their celebration and relaxation usually takes place around a dinner table at a restaurant or at home, so they can enjoy the traditions of Italian cuisine. Italians have a strong passion for eating, but also enjoy talking.In Italy, conversation is considered an art form. If you were to walk the streets of Italy, or stop at a cafe9, you would notice people of all ages engaged in intense and animated discussions on a wide variety of topics, ranging from family, work, politics, gossip, food, drinks, and sports, especially soccer.From the largest cities, to the most rural of villages, there is one place that will always remain as the central meeting point of Italian culture- the Piazza ( meaning square ). No matter how big or small the Piazza is, you will always see people sitting, strolling, walking, talking, and interacting with one another. Piazzas are also the main focal points for festivals, gatherings, celebrations, and political events.To real Italians, lunch is a 1-2 hour affair with traditionally a two to three course meal, which explains why most places halt for two hours of the day. Stores shut down, banks close, and all of the streets are empty. At around 2 o’clock, people start to emerge from their houses and populate the streets again until around 19:30 when it’s time for dinner. After dinner, the streets come to life again as Italians stroll around the piazza to work off their meal or head off for their evening engagement. Italian food is high in the ranks of most delicious, richest, and most varied of all cooking, with dishes for every occasion. Their food plays a huge role in their life and culture. Every region has their specialty, not only pasta, but all varieties of meat and fish are cooked to old, handed down recipes, mouth watering puddings, and of course, nobody can beat their ice creams. Shopping may not be a national past time, but it is taken very seriously in Italy. The major cities, like Rome, Milan, Florence, are full of the most wonderful shops selling everything from designer clothes to the newest and hippest furniture to be found anywhere in the world. Milan has its furniture fair every year and furniture makers from far and wide will go there to see what is happening at the leading edge of furniture design. Leather is also a good buy in Italy, Italians know their leather and the finest gloves, shoes, jackets, and bags are worn by virtually all Italians. They glory in being chic, and are generally always beautifully turned out. Sports are a very important passion in the lives of many Italians. Football, being their main passion, with hundreds of football clubs with top soccer teams playing for their country. Volleyball is also much enjoyed as is rugby, with the rugby team playing for the European Challenge Cup. Italians place more value on the simple things in life ( family, community, enjoying a Tuscan sunset ) rather than the material things most westerners covet. There are plenty of happy farmers in Italy who want no more than to share a meal with others in their community. The Italian Language is a romance language, spoken as a native language by about 70 million people in Italy, San Marino, and parts of Switzerland, Croatia, Slovenia, and France. Italian is based on the Tuscan dialect, which beforehand was only available to upper class Florentine society. Unlike other romance languages, Italian retains Latin’s contrast between short and long consonants. In particular, among the Romance languages, Italian is the closest to Latin in terms of vocabulary.