In Act II Scene II of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet famously asks:
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd.
Today I want to talk about naming your characters.
|What if his name had been John Smith? Not as fun, huh?|
Juliet claims that if Romeo went by any other name, he'd still be the same guy, but somehow I just can't see a play called Bob and Juliet. Of course, she's lamenting the fact that he's the son of her family's greatest enemy and dang, if she didn't fall in love with the wrong guy. Really, it's not the name Romeo that's the problem, it's the name Montague. If he'd been the son of any other family (say, the Rossis) he really wouldn't be the same person. He was shaped by the Montagues and their beliefs and internal culture, making him the guy Juliet fell in love with. So poor Juliet is really screwed.
|This won't end well.|
But the idea of names and what to call your characters is an important one for an author. How carefully do you choose what to call your characters?
For me, main character names are important. I try to consider all of the important factors such as ethnicity, age, historical era, the genre of the story. I also want to consider what the name is supposed to convey about the character. Should it imply strength, economic class, personality?
For instance, in my historical western series, I have to take into consideration that it's set in the 1870s, so names like Brittany and Jace probably won't work (in book one the heroine is Beth, the hero is Isaac. Book two is Lydia and Wyatt. Book three will be Daisy and Sam). In book two, part of the story takes place in a Cheyenne village, so I had to do a lot of research on Native American names. It was important to me to be authentic and respectful. In book four, the heroine is a Paiute woman. I'm nervous about writing that because I'm not a Paiute woman, so I want to be sure I get it right.
On the other hand, in my space opera, I didn't have the same kind of worries. Mostly, I wanted names that were different enough that they sounded "alien" but not so different as to be unpronounceable (alien names in the space opera include Jaska, Miklos, Otho). There's nothing I hate more when reading scifi and fantasy than when the names are loaded with vowels or consonants and apostrophes so I can't wrap my tongue around them (Rit'ux'kxlr or Aeix'eoel'i).
|Guardians of the Galaxy - Space Opera|
Things get even more complicated when you consider nicknames. You've already named your character, but maybe other characters wish to call them by a nickname or a pet name. There's nothing worse than men and women calling each other "babe" or "baby," unless it's meant to show how completely shallow the character is that they can't be bothered to remember the other person's name, or come up with an original nickname.
In my space opera, one of the main characters picks up the nickname "Dog" when he's stuck on a ship full of pirates, and the name sticks with him through the book, much to his chagrin. In the MMA-based romance series Merissa and I are writing, all the guys on the team have fighter nicknames (Juggernaut, Golden Boy, etc).
Names for things other than characters are important, too. Place names (planets, cities, realms, cultures, high school, buildings, etc), animal names, names of things (bands, cars, boats, airplanes, mascots, works of art), names of beings (fantasy or alien creatures, dieties), etc. The list can be daunting.
So if names are so important, how do you go about choosing them? I try not to spend too much time falling down the naming rabbit hole, because if you let it, it can become overwhelming. I have one favorite site I start with: Seventh Sanctum. The site is mostly all about scifi, fantasy, and anime, but they have a truck load of name generators including a "quick name generator" which is a good source for general names.
Of course, there are a zillion baby name sites all over the interwebs, and you can search your favorite search engine for any kind of generator you want (fantasy name generator, historical name generator, high school name generator...the possibilities are endless--hence the rabbit hole reference).
Some of the fun generators I've found, other than Seventh Sanctum, include:
donjon (RPG tools, fantasy and scifi. I found it good for planet and star system names)
Regency Name Generator
Mithril Mages (there are a lot of fantasy, D&D and RPG type tools here, but also a lot of general name generators that are really useful)
Chaotic Shiny (again, this is mostly focused on fantasy and gaming, but there are some other useful generators on the site).
I could go on forever, but I won't. If you're looking for a specific kind of name generator, just type what you want in the search box of your search engine. Whether it's a band name generator, historical name generator, boat name generator, or planet name generator, I guarantee you'll find something that will work for you.
How do you name your characters? If you have a favorite generator you use, post it in the comments section. If you have other ideas, please share!