“Names have power.”
- Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson Series
In the tale of Rumplestilkskin, the queen was only able to break the unfair deal she made with him when she found out Rumple’s true name. In Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle magicians can take over a person’s mind if they knew that person’s true name. Both stories illustrate that to know something’s name is to have power over it.
It may not be as drastic, but in real life, names do hold power. When you see a friend on the street and call out, you’re able to make that person turn and search for you in a crowd. If you’re a regular at a restaurant/shop, you might know the owner’s name and he yours, and whether you mean to or not, you develop a special rapport with each other.
Many psychologists believe that the names parents choose for their children often determine their outcomes later in life. Psychologists Simon Laham and Peter Koval discovered that most people prefer politicians with simpler names, and that in American firms, the lawyers who rise up to partner more quickly, are those with fluent names.
This knowledge about the power of names is important for writers. Just as expecting parents take time to think of a name for their baby, so must authors choose their characters’ names carefully.
Here are some tips for finding the perfect name for your characters:
1. Collect interesting street names, product names or even animal names that you come across.
2. Stay for the closing credits of movies and take note of interesting names.
3. Sherrilyn Kenyon’s The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook is another great resource. It lists more than 25,000 first and last names from all corners of the world, along with their meanings and pronunciations.
4. Sites like www.babynames.com , www.babyhold.com , and www.babynamesworld.parentsconnect.com hold a wealth of names. They list them down by letter, gender, and ethnicity, meaning and even list down variations in different cultures.
5. Other sites like http://www.rinkworks.com/namegen/ , http://www.seventhsanctum.com/index-name.php, http://www.angelfire.com/tx/afira/six.html offer name generators specifically targeted for your fantasy novels.
6. For more links to character names and name generators, you can also check out the list I’ve compiled on my own site. http://www.thewritingnut.com/writing-resources/fantasy-writers/
Parents may pick a name based on how it sounds or based on who/what the name is associated with. They might name their baby after a person they admire, maybe a famous personality they hope their child might one day emulate. They might name their baby after a beloved family member as a way of honoring them. They might even give their kid a unique name because they want the child to stand out and make their own mark on the world, or they might choose a name based on its meaning or what it symbolizes.
As a writer you could take the same approach. You could name your character after someone you know who embodies some of your character’s traits, or you could name your character after a good friend as a way of honoring them. J.M. Barrie named his characters after close family friend Arthur Llewelyn Davies’s sons John, Michael, Peter, and George who were very dear to him.
More often than not, writers name their characters based on sound and symbolism. Whether he knew it or not, J.M. Barrie actually picked the perfect name for his protagonist. “Peter” means “stone” or “rock”, and much like one, Peter Pan stubbornly refused to change or grow up. In Greek mythology, Pan was the pipe-playing, mischief-loving, goat-legged god of shepherds and flocks. Peter Pan lives up to his name when he leads his own flock of mischief-loving lost boys.
Names are powerful because they carry a lot of information about the person. One glance at a name can tell you about the person’s gender, ethnicity, race and even social class. A person can be judged solely by his/her name alone. A study by psychologists Bertrand & Mullainathan showed that a person with an African-American sounding name is less likely to get a job interview call back, compared to a person with a white-sounding name.
So take great care to find names that truly embody your character—one whose meaning readers can grasp consciously or subconsciously. Use the power of names in your own stories and watch your characters come to life.
Super thanks for having me on your blog, PK!
STORY SPROUTS: CBW-LA WRITING DAY EXERCISES & ANTHOLOGY 2013
STORY SPROUTS 2013 ANTHOLOGY STATISTICS:
· 19 Authors
· 38 Combined Anthology Entries – 2 per Contributing Author
· 6-hour Workshop
· 10 Writing Exercises (included in Story Sprouts)
· Dozens of Photo, Character and Conflict Prompts (included in Story Sprouts)
· 240 pages
What happens when linguistic lovers and tale tellers workshop together? Inspiration. Wonder. Discovery. Growth. Magic.
Brave and talented, the writers featured in this anthology took on the challenge of dedicating one day to the raw and creative process of writing.
A rare view into the building blocks of composition, Story Sprouts is made up of nearly 40 works of poetry and prose from 19 published and aspiring children's book authors.
This compilation includes all of the anthology writing exercises and prompts, along with tips, techniques and free online writing resources to help writers improve their craft.
KINDLE & PRINT COPIES AVAILABLE THROUGH AMAZON.
Learn more about Story Sprouts at http://www.storysproutsanthology.com/
Join the Children’s Book Writers of Los Angeles at www.cbw-la.org
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Thanks for sharing all the great info, Nutschell! And funny thing here, since I work for an international airline, I see all kinds of names. I have an a notebook of interesting names I've collected over the years, some of them you'd never believe!
Thanks so much for stopping by! So tell me, how do you come up with character names?
BTW I shared my tattoo story with Sydney Aaliyah and you can read all about it here.