Writing Wednesday: Choosing Names

One of the things that writers love to do is work out names for all their characters. I just wanted to add in a couple of words on that process, about how I do it. Mileage may vary.

For me, these are the pertinent steps
1) Know the nationality (and religion, too) of the characters in question.
This is one of those weirdly obvious things that some writers don’t worry about. I try to make my characters’ names fit their settings, otherwise all their imaginary friends will make fun of them in junior high (or the equivalent). So for example, for my novels set in Portugal, I go with Portuguese names. (No brainer, right?) But for the sereia, who aren’t Christian? Well, they are given Portuguese names, but I’ve avoided the more flagrantly Christian names. (Except for the ones that are sooo common that they don’t necessarily carry a religious connotation. Mary and Thomas are examples of that.)

2) Get a baby book, check out “Behind the Name”, and check Wikipedia for the most common names in each country.
The first two are pretty darn obvious, but that last has been really helpful for me. Common Surnames can make your character incognito. So when I needed an untraceable woman’s name for a character, I picked the first name Maria and the last name Melo. Very common names means that there might be a hundred other people in a large city that share the name. Or conversely, you can choose far less common names.

3) Check your name on Google.
This is the one that never occurred to me until one day a critiquer sent a note along with his critique. “Did you know that your main character shares a name with a famous Japanese porn star?”
Oh, no sir, I did not know that. Thank you. Checked Google. Was embarrassed. Oops!

OK, that last one is not obvious, but it really helps to check out your character name. This can save you not only from naming your characters after…ahem….inappropriate people, but also from inadvertently naming them after major historical figures, after other fictional characters, or actors and actresses who might not be a good fit for your story.

It’s also kinda fun to check them out on Facebook, BTW, just to see how many people actually do have that name. My main characters Duílio Ferreira and Oriana Paredes? There are dozens of each on FB…so those are good viable names ;o)

Now, I’m not big on assigning meaning to characters’ names. I try not to name them Dastardly Evilman and Angel Goodbody. In any language. But I know some authors like to have deep significance to their names. “Behind the Name” is a very helpful website for that, as you can not only start with a name and chase down its meaning–you can also start with a meaning and see what names fit it.

So that’s a potential 4th step.


What naming resources do you prefer? Or do you have a process at all?

One thought on “Writing Wednesday: Choosing Names

  1. I sometimes get names from old movies, haha. I think names are pretty important. They should either say something, or not, about the character. I have definitely used Google to check out my names sometimes, and, yes, I have several Baby Name books on my desk. 🙂

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