Naming Your Characters Names You Wouldn’t Name Your Children

Is there such a thing as too many barbeques? I think there must be. I am barbequed out.

Character naming is an interesting part of story creation. I know a lot of people who can’t write until they find the right name for a character, or the character’s name leads directly to their personality, and changing the name changes the character, often with disastrous (or, sometimes, fantastic, if your story was stuck) consequences.

With names being so important, it’s somewhat interesting to compare naming characters with naming children. Characters, even those we like, often get stuck with a name we’d never burden a child with. As a random example, I have a character named Raphael, but I’d never name a child that. It’s pretty much one of those “guaranteed to get you beat up on the playground” names. (Though, admittedly, with some of the boy names that are popular at the moment, it may not even rate on a bully’s radar.)

Kit, I can hear you saying, isn’t this kind of obvious? You do lots of other terrible things to your characters, so why not give them a bad name while you’re at it? It’s not worse than giving his girlfriend cancer and having him discover he has a ten-year old son he’s never heard of who has been kidnapped by an evil dragon who is threatening to eat him if he doesn’t destroy the heart of magic.

(Hm, I think I got my genres confused.)

While that is true, I would almost argue that you can get away with naming a character something you wouldn’t name a child BECAUSE they’re going to face worse things. Sure, you may be writing contemporary YA or MG where a character’s name is a plot point, but for the most part, a character’s name isn’t going to affect their world.

With a child, you have to worry about things like bullying and whether or not your child will be frustrated because none of their teachers ever pronounce their names right. With a character, it’s not going to matter much if he’s named Zebadiah when zombies are trying to eat his head.

(Of course, there are other circumstances too – if you’re writing historical, fantasy, or a certain culture, you’re probably not going to use character names that you would use for a child anyway, unless you are a time-traveler from the 1800s, a dimension-crossing elf, or Japanese.)

Do you have any character names that you would never, in a million years, give a child? What are your character-naming conventions?

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4 responses to this post.

  1. There are plenty of names I’d never give a child but shan’t list them here for fear of causing offence. Regarding character names, you’re absolutely right – change the name and it effects everything around it, for good or ill.

    Reply

  2. With the exception of Colby I couldn’t possibly give a child any name I’ve ever used in a fantasy story. Oh wait. I guess Charmaine and Margaret would be okay… but yeah… Midnyte, Bayne… oh. Michael is okay too. Hmm… Um. Apparently my ‘fantasy’ names aren’t really all that ‘fantastic’ LOL

    Z’thandra! Ha! There’s a name I used in fiction that I could never, ever give to a child in real life.

    Reply

  3. My goal is to be so popular that I create a naming trend. LOL I want to single-handedly revive the medieval name “Anselm.” And there need to be more “Micah’s” in the world, too.

    But given that my husband and I took months to name our horse and cats, I don’t know if I could trust us to name a kid. Agreeing on the proper blend of medieval, modern, and Jewish would probably be impossible.

    Reply

  4. MacFizzbin. I have a character named MacFizzbin that I could never burden a real child with. Which is a shame. The world needs more MacFizzbin’s in it.

    Reply

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