The Writing Process: Naming Your Characters

Hello, everyone! Am I the only one who can’t believe that Monday is September 1? I mean, really. Where has 2014 gone?

Before I begin, I want to say thank you for all of the kind words and shares that my previous post received. That was a surprisingly fun post to write, and it was really awesome to hear how other authors have dealt with the same things I mentioned and have emerged on the other side victorious. Self-pubbers, FTW!

So, onto why you clicked this: naming your characters. It’s a crucial step that seems like it will be easy, but when you get down to it, it’s one of the most daunting tasks an author faces in the story development process. You can’t spend months crafting the next Lord of the Rings-esque saga with a burly, formidable, battle-hardened protagonist whose name is Bob. (Not that I’m saying there aren’t burly, formidable, battle-hardened Bobs out there in the world.)

The way I see it, naming a character is like connecting the last piece of the puzzle, or picking the perfect topping to complement your fro-yo flavor. It’s that final turn of the wrench that seals everything into place so you can sit back and bask for a few moments in the splendor you’ve just pieced together. (A touch dramatic? Possibly.)

As with any other “The Writing Process” blog I’ve penned, I will use The Mirror Stage for my examples. More specifically, my main characters. Let’s start with Ada.

My husband was on a major Resident Evil kick a couple of years ago, and he had procured a few used copies. He would often play while I would be doing something else, but I managed to constantly hear the name “Ada.” For reason, it stuck with me. It was different and I liked it. When it came time to name my protagonist, Ada continuously floated to the forefront of my mind. No matter how many other names I looked up, I kept coming back to Ada. (Usually a clue that that is what you should go with!) When I looked up the meaning of the name, it sold me on it even more. Ada means noble or nobility. In my mind, Ada is quite noble in whatever she does. As for her last name, I knew I wanted something German. This was a slight homage to my own German heritage. I stumbled across Brandt, which means “beacon” and did a little happy squeal. Ada Brandt, noble beacon. Sold.

For James, I wanted something that sounded authoritative but approachable. “James” means “he who supplants;” essentially, “he who replaces.” Because of my advantage of knowing how this entire story ends (evil cackle complete with palms rubbing), it took me about .6 seconds to let this name stick. “Deacon” was chosen simply because I liked how it sounded with “James.” It completed the name nicely. Hey, being completely transparent here.

I’m going to clump Dade and Brenda together, because I honestly chose their names for their sounds. There wasn’t much ulterior motive for them. For Dade, I got an instant mental picture of what a “Dade” would look like and it totally matched up with the character I had created. I wasn’t able to find much in the way of name meaning for Dade, so it really does just come down to liking the sound of it for me. “Wylan” fit nicely with “Dade,” so my thought process was the same as it was with “Deacon.” For Brenda, I wanted a name that, much like James, sounded firm but friendly to fit with her personality. When I discovered the meaning of the name (“sword”), I liked it even more. Brenda is definitely a sword-like member of the team. She cuts to the heart of a situation quickly.  Again, “Stine” was chosen for its compatibility with “Brenda.”

I feel like saying this totally undermines the entire blog post, but there really is no “set in stone” way to name a character. It really just depends on your writing style, your preferences and your characters themselves. Oddly enough, I knew James was a “James” pretty much from the moment I began writing him. Sometimes your characters will begin in your mind as a name with a slightly blurry face. Other times, like with Ada, you will complete your initial conceptions of your character and have a vivid image in your mind of what a physical manifestation of the character would appear as. Going off of her quirks and appearance, Ada became … Ada. The best way I can summarize all of that is this: I wrote a “James”, and named an “Ada.”

I know there weren’t any organized bullet points or detailed sections in this post, but I hope you still glean something from it. Honestly, naming your character is one of the more flexible parts of storytelling. There are no rules, there are no guidelines. You are the parent of you characters, in a sense. They’re your babies, so you and only you have the power and authority to grant them a name. Just remember to use this creative liberty in a manner that will wholly complete your character and put the perfect cherry on top of your months of hard work.


The Mirror Stage is available now on AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iBooks.

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