Guest Blog: Character Naming
Character Naming: Why you need to stop overreaching for character names
As an editor, and a reader, nothing irritates me more than unusual character names. Lestat the billionaire architect, Annikananian the dystopian warrior princess, Carininna the waitress. This is lazy writing. It feels as if the author cannot come up with descriptive ways, or a deep enough back story, to make their character unique, so they just plug an inappropriate or ridiculous name into their story, as if to shout to the reader “HEY! LOOK AT HOW SPECIAL AND DIFFERENT MY CHARACTERS ARE.”
That’s great. But if I can’t pronounce your heroine’s moniker, I’m not really going to get to invested in your story.
That’s great. But if I can’t pronounce your heroine’s moniker, I’m not really going to get to invested in your story. Every time I come across the name, I will be wrenched from your story, trying desperately to figure out if the unnecessary letters are even enunciated. It’s frustrating.
And honestly, many times, the author who falls victim to this name game, ends up spelling their own characters names wrong, sometimes several different ways, throughout the book. No matter how good an editor is, catching all three spellings, each time they occur, is a herculean effort that is often too much to handle. And as frustrating as hard-to-understand names are, typos in a manuscript are a surefire path to negative reviews.
Joan the Vampire Slayer
Readers want to relate to your characters. They want to see pieces of themselves in the way the hero and heroine interact, in how they go through their days. It’s far more likely that a little boy named Harry would be shocked to find that he is the sole hope of his wizarding world, than it is to believe that Amberrosialla would stand out among her peers as the one to take up a mantle. How fortuitous of her parents to give her such a special name, when they couldn’t possibly have known she would become a hero.
And if you have an unusual name then good for you, Tiger. I’m proud of you. You’ve joined the ranks of those of us who have never purchased a personalized key chain off a souvenir rack.
Granted, in today’s world of Apples and Norths and Pilots, the unusual name trend is certainly on a warpath. And if you have an unusual name then good for you, Tiger. I’m proud of you. You’ve joined the ranks of those of us who have never purchased a personalized key chain off a souvenir rack. But the top baby names, throughout this and the last century, have remained classics for a reason.
There is beauty and honesty in Mary the waitress falling in love with Bruce the media mogul. Or Kate the princess running off with William the soldier. These are real people, with real names, doing real things.
Wonder Woman’s name is Diana. Spiderman is Peter. Superman is Clark. Batman is Bruce. Ironman is Tony. This is not an accident. These fantastical, fictional superheroes have nice, normal names so that the kids reading about them can relate to them. Can invest themselves in the stories.
Yes, I know, we read books to escape reality. But…do we? I think many of us read books to envision a different life. Something we can imagine falling into. I can see myself as a seventeen year old whiny Bella, lusting after a century old high school boy named Edward.
Dystopian Intergalactic Space Queen
Instead of using a character's name to make them seem special, I just want you to consider maybe spending a little more time developing them as a person.
I can feel the argument on the tip of your tongue through the internet. Your book is not about a waitress or a farmer or an office lackey. You’re writing a great fantasy space novel that is a cross between Star Wars, Star Trek and Invader Zim. There is no way Cathy Brown is captaining a space squadron to take down Michael Smith, the evil intergalactic overlord.
Fine. If Luke and Leia are just too normal for you, feel free to use names that feel more spacey. It’s your novel and no one can tell you what to do. Instead of using a character's name to make them seem special, I just want you to consider maybe spending a little more time developing them as a person.
What are your thoughts on unusual character names? Do you agree with me that they are more trouble than they are worth? Or do you enjoy stumbling over different names when reading or writing?
Thank you, Dakota, for being here today! I know I appreciate your insights on character naming! Readers, you can find Dakota at:
Make sure to look her up!
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