Nine Thoughts about Names in Fiction
by Craig Chambers, Author of Fuck You, Your Honor
Satirical Literary Fiction
March 4, 2018
First, from Indiana Jones to Holly Golightly or Ignatius J. Reilly, the main character’s name should be memorable. If you want the story to be memorable, find a unique name for the main character that suits the type of fiction you are writing.
Second, keep a list of names. I keep a list of interesting and amusing names which I get from people that I meet, from movie credits, and from interesting words that are sometimes also names. Other times, as I am writing a story, the name just pops out at me.
Third, Google the names of the main characters to see how they are used in real life or in popular culture. Certain names have connotations because other writers have used them already, and you need to be aware of how the name might resonate with the reader.
Fourth, not every character needs a name. Some characters are neighborhood characters and in the story for atmosphere or to draw out one of the main characters. Avoid naming incidental or unimportant characters.
Fifth, avoid naming too many characters. Too many characters, really more than four of five, are confusing for the reader.
Sixth, avoid characters whose names are similar. The characters might be real and distinctive to you, the writer, but to a reader, a character named Doug is similar to a character named Don or Dustin.
Seventh, use diverse names to make the book more interesting. Some people have ethnic names; some people have names with a secondary meaning.
Eighth, some people don’t go by first names. They go by their initials, their middle name or their last name. Don’t be afraid to stir it up a bit.
Ninth, don’t forget diminutive versions of names or nick-names, either derived from their names or their personal characteristics.
Most people go by more than one name. The name your wife or husband calls you might be different than the name your boss or your buddy from college or what your mother calls you.
Each character should have a first name, a middle name, a last name, and a nick-name, even if you don’t use them. The more you know about the character you are creating, the more interesting the character will become.
Sugar Plum, have fun with names, and a create more memorable characters for the reader.