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How to Name Secondary Characters

Updated on January 31, 2010

When writing a novel or short story you want to do your best by your characters, even if they're just secondary folk / creatures. If you're going to give your hero and heroine full on fantastic names, you should also take care when naming the best friend, grandma or whoever. Granted, you don't want to give them a better name than your star character but there's no need to schlep about and insult them, right? The following tips are based on my own personal experience with character naming and I'll be the first to admit I take more care with them (read: obsess over) than most, but hey, I love my characters.

1. Silly names.

Even if you've given your main characters seriously amazing names fit for celebs and other royalty, you can still consider offsetting this by naming secondary characters with something silly. And by silly I don't mean stupid -- I mean silly. Take the Harry Potter series, for example. Harry, Ron and Hermione have relative normal names but most of the other characters are quite strangely monikered. And it works for those books.

2. First names.

Some characters only need a first name, but that doesn't mean it needs to be lame. The name should fit the character. If you're someone who likes to change up between surnames and first names when narrating you can always choose a name that has a good shortened version to alternate between, especially if the short version is what the other characters call them by.

3. Surnames.

Same principle using first names so I won't go into too much detail. Note that in some countries there are actual differences between male and female surnames so if you're going to set your story in, say, Slovakia, be aware that you can tell who is male and who is female from the ending on their name.

4. Descriptive names.

You don't actually have to give a secondary character a name at all. Remember Seinfeld and the Soup Nazi? You can just describe someone's personality and stick a Mr. or Miss or Mrs. or Ms in front of it and that will do nicely. Obviously you probably wouldn't want to do this for all of your characters, but it's often interesting for readers and can work quite well.

5. Naming animals.

You should always name the animals in your stories! Personally I like to give them nationality based names based on breeds but that's just me. You'll see that a lot in Disney films and I've always been keen on it. But you could also name your animals regular people names, you don't have to give them fancy pets names -- and in some countries that's exactly how people name their pets anyway.

Image: Suat Eman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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