Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Power of Names

Today I'm excited to have Nutschell Windsor here talking about naming our characters and her new book, Story Sprouts.

Take it away, Nutschell ...

“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 , , and 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 ,, 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.
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!

·         Paperback: 240 pages
·         Publisher: CBW-LA Publications (October 18, 2013)
·         Edited by: Alana Garrigues, Nutschell Anne Windsor
·         Language: English
·         ISBN-10: 0989878791
·         ISBN-13: 978-0989878791
·         Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.6 inches
·         Shipping Weight: 13.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)

·         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.


Learn more about Story Sprouts at
Join the Children’s Book Writers of Los Angeles at 

Find Nutschell at:

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.  


Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for sharing all the info and links on names, Nutschell. I spend a fair amount of time thinking of names for my main characters. And so much time before we named our daughter who I wanted to have a Chinese, Mexican, and Jewish name in one. Did find it.

Congrats on your book.

Annalisa Crawford said...

My characters tend to appear in my mind fully formed with names. On two occasions I've had to really think - one because the mother of the character had spent a long time thinking about the name, and the other because it was too similar to another character. Both times were very hard!

S.K. Anthony said...

Loved this!
I find names to be fascinating, so of course I found this post to be interesting and informative.

Nice "meeting" you Nutschell ;)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

My main characters always come with names, and for the secondary characters, I take about twenty minutes to brainstorm and then match them up. Of course, mine are all science fiction names, so it works.

William Kendall said...

Excellent post, Nutschell! PK, thanks for having her over!

I often look up foreign names, mix and match, since my characters tend to be multinational in the course of a story. One military officer I wrote ended up with a variation of a name of a Canaanite war god.

Jennifer Ruth Jackson said...

Thank you for the links, Nutschell.
The psychology of names is always an intriguing topic.

Question for everyone: What are the worst or most ill-fitting names in literature?

Robin said...

Very informative post. Names are significant. I like knowing what a name means or implies when I hear it.

Cynthia said...

I'm fascinated by names and very nit-picky about how I name my characters. Their name should go with who they are.

How unfortunate it is to hear that someone can be discriminated against simply based on how their name sounds. Doesn't seem fair.

Carrie-Anne said...

I prefer classical eccentric and classical unusual names, though I respect the traditional classics too. Most trendy Top 100 names don't do much for me, and I don't see their appeal. I've found a lot of awesome Russian name sites to help me with finding lesser-used names for my characters, and I also make frequent use of Behind the Name and Name Nerds (UUCN).

I've written a number of posts on my blog about names (particularly in regards to accurate names in historical fiction), and recently started a new names-only blog called Onomastics Outside the Box.

A huge pet peeve is predated naming trends. Yeah, what are the odds you're only choosing that name because it's popular now, not because it would've been common when your character was born? Fewer things put me off a book faster than seeing a non-child character with a Top 100 name that didn't exist or was barely heard of until 5-10 years ago.

Anonymous said...

The power of names comes into play at the end of my sequel. Funny thing is, I didn't even look up the meaning of my 3 main characters until I was writing book #2, and then the meanings perfectly matched their personalities! Same can be said for my own 2 children. Hmm, maybe a higher power had a plan even when I didn't :-) Great post!

nutschell said...

PK!!! Thanks for hosting me here today! You rock!

nutschell said...

Natalie, Names are so important! ooh what did you name your daughter?

Annalisa, That's amazing! I find that my character isn't solid in my mind until I've found the perfect name. :)

SK, nice meeting you too!

Alex, My main characters came fully formed with names as well. But I spent time thinking about my minor characters' names as well.

nutschell said...

William, I think having a name of a war god when you're in the military is kind of cool. :)

Jennifer, Can't think of any ill-fitting names right off the top of my head, but I'll be sure to keep my eyes out for one!

Robin, me too! whenever i meet someone with an interesting name I ask what it means.

nutschell said...

Cynthia, it goes along with stereotypes I guess. I love it when folks with unique names go against their stereotypes, too.

Carrie, agreed! I should check out your posts on names as I love the topic. I always look up the trend of a character name based on the year they were born.

Jamie, your subconscious powers were at work!

Beth said...

Recently, I've had to pick names based on regions. Like for the Peace series Mirriam and her brother needed Mid-Eastern names. And in my current WIP an Oklahoma girl moves to D.C. and I wanted her name to sound really Southern so I went with Mary Anne. (Sara Beth was my first choice but I was afraid readers would think I named her after myself).

shelly said...

Good post, Nut!

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

Nutschell, your tour posts have been so wonderfully informative and varied. Thanks for sharing so much.

SC Author said...

Awesome! When I was writing my fantasy, I named my characters based on the words' meanings. For my current Adult Contemporary, the names basically just came to me, somehow (and they've evolved to mean something bigger).

Michael Di Gesu said...

Hey, PK. HI, Nutshell.

I love names. And here are some great sources. When I was writing my first two fantasy novels, I did research for THE PERFECT names for my characters. It is amazing how powerful they really can be!

Thanks for the info, Nutshell!