Saturday, February 7, 2015

Picking Character Names

I've done several posts similar to this in the past, but I wanted to elaborate a bit on my personal process for picking character names. Characters are probably my favorite aspect of writing, so I occasionally get a bit OCD when trying to find the perfect names for them.

Some characters seem to appear in my head with his or her name already obvious. Ember was like that. I did not have to think at all about her name. The image of a tall, lanky girl with tangled orange hair and a sharp nose popped into my head, and it just seemed so obvious that her name was Ember, as if there were a flashing neon sign proclaiming it. Those characters are either the easiest or the hardest to name. Why the hardest? Well, the struggle comes when you have to possibly change the name.

When I was eight or nine, I invented my first fantasy world. To my credit, it wasn't that bad, it only seemed like Middle-Earth a little, not completely. This fantasy world has morphed and changed over the years in my mind, becoming a unique and original world. The characters have done the same. I have no plans to write this story any time soon, though I do intend to write it someday.

One of the earlier characters I invented was a warrior woman named Araeyn. I was twelve years old, and I had just finished reading this wonderful novel called King's Warrior by Jenelle Schmidt. I'm sure this is just coincidence, but one of the main characters in King's Warrior was a young man named Oraeyn.

Needless to say, after a few years I realized "Oh yeah... probably should change her name". But to what? I had grown so used to calling her Araeyn in my head. Nothing else fit. But I needed to change it, so I stopped whining and started inventing new names.

I considered names like Arelle, Androma, and Anisyn, but none of those fit her. The first was far too girly, the second too matronly, and the fourth too.... something. Eventually I settled on Aralyn. I like it because it fits with the magic language I invented for the world, and in the end, I only had to change one letter from the original name, yet it sounds different. I still sometimes call her "Araeyn" in my head, but Aralyn is growing on me. It's just a slow process.

The characters who DON'T have a name to begin with are either extremely fun or extremely tedious. After I finish the Leverage Trilogy, the next novel I intend to write- codenamed 'Story D' because it is being stubborn and won't give me a title- features a male protagonist named Asher. When I first invented him he did not originally have a name. It did not take long to invent one for him though. In his culture, names are always "two part" names- one part being a fire-related word, and the second part a one syllable sound. One is taken from each parent. Asher's father's name is Ashjar, and his mother's name was Sparker. Thus, Asher. He was fun.

Here is a good example of a tedious character. One day, I was minding my own beeswax, when an image of a someone popped in my head. I say 'a someone' because that is literally all I could tell. The someone was flopped down casually in an armchair, hidden in the shadows. I think the someone had on a long coat, and maybe held a whiskey glass, though that might have been a pack of cards or a pocket-knife. I was intrigued. I started thinking about this unknown character, and soon discovered that the someone was a guy. Aaaand that's about as much as I figured out.

I really wanted to name this character. I felt like if I named him, his personality would become clearer. Except that... I usually named characters based on what I already knew about their personalities. And so began the extremely tedious and annoying search for a name.

I didn't even know what genre to search in! Modern names like Andrew and Michael were not working. Fantasy equivalents like Druan or Mikkel were not working. More steampunky names like Silas or Gear sounded silly, and epic fantasy names like Flagrian or Hrodmund totally didn't fit. I was so stumped, I even turned to my "off limits" names.

My "off limit" names are names that I would consider naming future adopted children. The aforementioned Jenelle Schmidt mentioned in a blog post once that it is a good idea to set aside names you really like for real-life babies instead of fictional babies. I thought that was good advice, so I did it. The names I set aside are James, Leo, William, Cyrus, Morgan, Isabel Lee, Esther, and Elizabeth. The name "Cyrus" almost fit him, but not quite. It still needed something.

To cut an overlong story short, after weeks of searching I stumbled across the Old English name Rhydian. I really liked it, but it didn't exactly fit. I combined it with Cyrus and I ended up with Cydian, which, I am proud to say, works. It reminds me of obsidian, which fits Cydian's personality (well... the little I know of it, anyway), perfectly. (Lava hardening into rock... just that concept is entrancing to me)

And that's it! Yeah, kinda a disjointed, out-there post. But hey! At least I managed to post something! I hope I have not freaked you out with my talk of unknown someones in my head and obsessive character naming. I'm sane, I promise!

I also just wanted to thank everyone so much for your encouragement for the Five Enchanted Roses collection! Your comments completely made my week! ^_^ Y'all are awesome!


  1. I love learning how other authors name their characters. It's one of those things that every single author seems to approach differently, which is just cool.

    Thanks for sharing!

    1. I love finding out how other authors name their characters as well! It really is interesting. :)

  2. It's really fun when your characters are just born with a name that fits them perfectly ;)
    Ruth Newton

    1. That is definitely my favorite way of naming characters. The names always seem to fit best as well. :)

  3. With one of my projects I just gave my characters nicknames, figuring their real names would come in time. I could write the story without puzzling over names. Eventually some names did come. But it backfired in a way, one character's pseudonym suits him so well I can't think of him as anything else.

    1. That's a cool idea! Hey, maybe it didn't backfire! Maybe his pseudonym is supposed to be his real name! :)

    2. Well, it may suit him- but not the story world. But then again...I don't have to get rid of it entirely. It's just the thing people would call him when he is out of earshot.

    3. Ah. Well, I like your solution! It's a great idea! I didn't add this to the blog post because it did not really fit, but Cydian, for some heretofore unknown reason, also goes by River. I'm not sure if it's a nickname, a pseudonym, a title, or simply that I've been watching too much Doctor Who. I think it adds depth though, and I'm sure your pseudonym-turned-name will as well! :)