I’ve always had a rough time coming up with names for characters. When I write non-fiction, it seems simpler. The people I am writing about already have a name–there is no need for me to create one. But to be honest, many of the fictional characters I write about are also based on people that I have met throughout my life, so for me, it isn’t really about whether the name is real or not but that it fits the character.
But how does a writer do that? When I think about names like Harry Potter or Huck Finn, I wonder how the authors that developed those characters knew that the names they had chosen perfectly fit the characters they were given to. Maybe a name like that is a stroke of luck, but through my own research and questioning, I have discovered a few tips to increase your chances of finding that perfect fit:
1) Research Root Meanings
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. – Romeo and Juliet
Shakespeare may be right about a rose’s smell, but I beg to differ about the importance of names. Sure, names can be random. Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Sylvester Stallone named their kids Apple and Sage Moonblood. And while, like any good English major, I could sit here and create some obscure way in which these names represent the people they belong to, a good writer shouldn’t have to explain that meaning (nor should they ever pick names like Apple or Sage Moonblood–unless, you know, being weird is what you’re going for).
So how do you choose a name that means something?
One way to do this is by researching the root meanings of names. As Brian A. Klems writes in his article “The 7 Rules of Choosing Names for Fictional Characters:”
It’s better to call a character Caleb, which means ‘faithful’ or ‘faithful dog,’ than to overkill it by naming him Loyal or Goodman—unless you want that for comic/ironic purposes. Some readers will know the name’s root meaning, but those who don’t might sense it.