How-to Tuesday

How to Bring Your Characters to Life: Part 1—Choosing the Right Name

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature. If a writer can make people live there may be no great characters in his book, but it is possible that his book will remain as a whole; as an entity; as a novel.”
–Ernest Hemingway

For the next ten weeks, we will be posting a series about creating realistic characters, entitled “How to Bring Your Characters to Life.” Each weekly post will provide a handy activity to help you turn your characters into realistic “people.” Our first post is about how to discover the perfect name for your character.

Choosing the Right Name:

When choosing a name for character, think about how it represents your character’s personality, lifestyle, ideals, and goals. Consider researching the meaning or etymology of certain names as well as the historical significance or ethnic history of names.

For instance, the name Odin comes from Norse mythology, in which Odin was the highest of the gods, and presided over art, war, wisdom and death. So the name “Odin” might be an interesting choice for a powerful character like a king, president, or CEO, and/or someone from a Germanic descent.

In another example, the common name “Jacob” is spelled in different ways in different countries: Jaycob (English), Jacobus, Jakob (Dutch), Jakob (Swedish), Jakob (Norwegian), Jakob (Danish). Choose a name that gives your reader valuable information about your character’s home country, ethnicity, and/or personality.

In addition, consider whether your character goes by their full name or a nickname, such as a tomboy who might prefer to be called “Jo” than “Josephine.”

Here are some questions to help you get started:

  1. Is your character female or male?
  2. Is your character a “traditional” male/female (ex: girly girl or macho guy) when it comes to gender roles, or does your character like to “go against the grain” (ex: a male makeup artist or a female wrestler)?
  3. Where does your character live? Is your character’s family from that place originally, or did they immigrate from somewhere else? If so, where?
  4. What ethnicity or culture does your character come from?
  5. What kind of personality does your character have? (ex: Fun and Carefree, Anxious and Worried, Angry and Aggressive, Whimsical and Unique, Dreamy and Creative, etc.)

Once you have considered the questions above, spend some time researching names until you find one that you feel fits with your answers to these questions.

Here are a few helpful links for you to use when researching names:

Stay tuned for part 2 next Tuesday.

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