NAME THAT CHARACTER
Dawn L. Stewart
Here are few points to consider while pondering the perfect names for your
Don't use the same
number of syllables in the first and last name. The ear prefers variety,
and the tongue needs to wrap easily around the words. Combine a short
first name with a long last name: Susan Nickerson. Pair a long first name
with a short last name: Worthington Clark. If the character demands a long
first name and last name, separate the two with a short middle name such
as Nicholas Luke Shannahan (after introducing the character, call him Nick
Make sure the
reader knows how to pronounce the character's name. This dilemma has
happened to more than one author, and if the character is a series
character, the mispronounced name may haunt the author for a long time.
One way to inform the reader about a character's name is to write
something like this, "Jun Ho stumbled through the long lines in the
unemployment office and, for the fourth time that day, informed the clerk
that Jun sounded like June. He didn't tell the clerk his Chinese name
meant 'truth' because he was about to lie." This narrative informs
the reader of the character's gender, name, name pronunciation, origin and
When creating a
character with a first, middle and last name, make sure the initials don't
spell an embarrassing word or acronym-unless the spelling is intentional.
For instance, Douglas Ulyses Dolan spells DUD. Maybe the fellow is a dud,
but unless you want to call attention to the fact, change the name. Review
initials to make sure they don't spell an acronym with unpleasant
associations, such as the name Daisy Deerfield Tellings, which spells DDT,
a harmful pesticide. I hope Daisy isn't operating a garden center.
Avoid rhyming and
alliteration when choosing a name. Cute names like these can quickly
become annoying. Some examples: Sally MacNally and Betty Barbara Bruckley.
An exception to this rule is to use rhyming names in children's stories,
which is acceptable and sometimes expected. Also in this category are the
"playful" names that authors love to create but wouldn't want to
live with as their lifelong names. Some of these witticisms might include
Lily Padd or
Nick L. Odeon. Of course, your story might need a character with a quirky
name, but evaluate whether using a word-play name actually strengthens the
character and/or the story.
Unless a well-known
name is mandatory to the story's development, choose original names for
your characters. Abraham Lincoln, Davey Crockett, Amelia Earhart all
served history and are fine names; however, let your character carve his
own place in the reader's mind through action and dialogue.
A CROWDED ROOM
When writing a
story populated with a cast of characters, make sure the names differ. It
will confuse the reader if several characters have names beginning with
the same letter of the alphabet, or if character names begin with the same
first and last letters, such as Jack Tyler and Jake Trask. Also, names
that sound alike such as Molly and Holly may bewilder the reader. If
similar names are used in a story, make sure strong character traits are
assigned to each person so the reader can easily identify each character.
© 1998 Dawn L. Stewart
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be
copied or used in any way without written permission from the author.
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