Names are important, even in fictional tales; perhaps especially in fictional tales.
Names trigger our prejudices. Hearing or seeing a person’s name sets off stereotypes in our heads, without us even realizing.
Whether or not these stereotypes are wrong, when you come across the name Fatima, you may find yourself picturing a dark skinned female with kinky hair, or an olive skinned woman with curly dark hair, or maybe even a woman who is clothed in such a way that you could only see her eyes, but I am confident that you would not picture a blue eyed, golden haired male.
There are justifiable reasons why this is so, and it is important to be aware of these assumptions when selecting names for your characters, even if you choose to ignore them.
Think Ishmael vs Harry
Think Rose vs Diamond (I actually met a girl the other day whose name was Diamond…and she is a respectable lawyer)
A name a character has, also reveals a lot about their background and their parents. If a character was named Hollywood, I would make judgments about the social class of the parents. Is it a pet name? Did her parents wish for him/her to be an actor? What is their fascination with the industry?
If the name happened to be Opologpopo (I just made that up), I’d wonder what village the character had come from and how long it would take them to acclimatize to the ‘big city’.
Certain names are forever stuck in our heads and belong entirely to the fictional character in question i.e. James Bond, Cinderella, Oliver Twist and so on.
More times that not, your character’s name will be your reader’s first introduction to your character and to your story. Majority of the novels we have read have a name in the very first sentence of the plot, so the name picking should be selected carefully.
Here are a couple tips for naming your character:
- Consider your character’s ethnicity: Naming your character Jia Li makes noooo sense if your character is Nigerian and living in London; unless there is a really good back story that justifies the name.
- Consider your character’s character: Names can help to ease the reader into knowing the character. If your character is wholesome or old-fashioned, try to select a name that is perhaps from an older era. If your character is unconventional, an unconventional name would be worth a try.
- Consider the meaning of the name: Look for a name that has a meaning which would go well with the character of your character. It might be useful to know that Lewa means beautiful or that Kehinde is the 2nd born twin.
- Sound out the name: Remember when you were in primary school and you were encouraged to sound out difficult words? Well, say your characters name aloud and see if you like it still.
- Don’t give your characters similar names if you can avoid it: Naming your characters Chiamaka and Chiamanda may confuse your readers.