Choosing Character Names For Novels, by Paul Volponi
In my house, one of our great joys is the naming of a new pet. We have dogs, cats, and even a bearded dragon. My choices of names usually lose out to those of my wife and daughter (personally, I thought Barkley was a great name for a dog), but there is one place where I get to actually see my name choices come to fruition – in my Young Adult novels.
My inspirations for names come from a variety of places. Some come from students whom I have taught, some come from names I have seen across the back shoulders of sports jerseys, some come to me while listening to other people’s conversations in the street (it’s not that hard with everyone on cell phones these days), and some even arise from classic literature (I named a poker player Huck because the final card in Texas Hold’em is called ‘the River’). I keep a running list of names that I like and may one day want to use in a novel.
I also use a dictionary of names – and no, it’s not cheating. I enjoy hearing the meaning of names in dictionaries, sometimes matching them to a character’s qualities (in Hurricane Song, the preacher is named Culver, which means “dove”). Did you know that Shakespeare coined the name Jessica for a female? Previously, it had only been seen in the masculine form.
Are there any rules for naming characters? Well, obviously not. I do tend to stay away from very common names, such as Jim, John, Jane, and Mary. I also don’t want characters in the same book to have names that are too similar, such as Mr Johnson and Mrs Jones. Sometimes my characters, even really important ones, are simply referred to by their roles, instead of their names. For instance, in Black and White, a prominent character is referred to as Marcus’ mother, rather than by her actual name.
You should feel satisfied with the character names you choose. Don’t settle. I suppose some writers, without a concrete name in mind, can begin to write scenes, perhaps using a dummy name or ***** in its place. To me, that’s counter-productive. The names of your characters can stand for your ideas and represent them in a memorable way to the reading public. I want the main character’s name to have an intimate connection with the character’s development. For example, in Rooftop, the main protagonist is named Clay, because he will be moulded into a man in the pages to come. In Hurricane Song, the protagonist with a long journey ahead of him is named Miles. I can’t say for sure that readers in general pick up on those things. I’ve had a few teens bring those images/names up to me, wanting to discuss their origins. I do feel that they make an impact on a deeper, subconscious level.
Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com
United States (and beyond)
United Kingdom (and beyond)
Australia (and beyond)
Writing Teen Novels