Connecting Authors to Readers

What's In A Name?

What do Arya, Hermione, and Bella have in common? Aside from being characters in popular books, they are rising in popularity for baby names.

When choosing your characters’ names, it’s probably not at the forefront of your mind to set the latest baby name trend. And it doesn’t have to be. But it is important to choose your characters’ names wisely.

Here are a few tips:

1. Vary your characters’ names so they don’t confuse your readers. If you have a Jenny, Jenna, and Gemma in your book, it’s easy for your reader to mix them up. With all the names in the world to choose from (or to invent), there’s no need to pick similar names.

2. Take your characters’ ethnicity into account. Your characters don’t need to be a walking cliché, but if your heroine is of Italian descent, you can give her a traditional-sounding last name.

3. Factor in your genre. Fantasy and sci-fi can get away with names like Melisandre and Rune. If you’re writing contemporary fiction, though, you might want to stick with names people have actually heard of. If you’re writing a story in a different time period, do your research and be sure your main character isn’t called Britney (unless she’s a time-traveler, which, hey, someone should totally write that book).

4. If writing a memoir, you might want to change some names to protect the (not-so) innocent. As a memoir writer myself, I generally use my characters’ real names (a quick internet search would show you my husband’s real name so there’s no point in changing it to Ryan Gosling, much as they do look alike). However, certain characters (bosses, ex-boyfriends) are best renamed. In order to maintain the “feel” of their name without using their actual name, my trick is to use magicbabynames.com. You enter a name and it will display similar names. In one of my chapters I poked fun at the faceless French bureaucrats that stood between me and my visa. I knew one of their names was Jocelyne but hadn’t noted the others. By using Magic Baby Names, I came up with Pauline, which then reminded me of Sandrine, and then I had my three characters’ names.

Have fun with it! For some authors, this is one of their favorite parts. For those who struggle, I hope these tips help. Lastly, have a friend read over your work when you’re done (you do that anyway, though, right?) and ask if any names confused them.

How do you name your characters? Any tips to add to the list?

About the Author:
Vicki Lesage is an IT Director by day, writer by night. And a full-time nerd. She loves fondue, wine, math, and zombies. She lives in Paris with her French husband and rambunctious son. Her first book, Confessions of a Paris Party Girl, is a humorous account of the ups and downs of her life in Paris. She's currently working on a baby-focused sequel, in between chasing her son and downing massive amounts of coffee.

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