To Name or Not to Name

Sometimes, a character will come up to me, tap me on the shoulder, and introduce himself. I know what sort of person he is right off and whether he’s meant to be a minor character or a major one. I have to dig a bit to find out his flaws, but we’re on friendly enough terms that I get to know all good things about him.

Including his name.

It’s a beautiful phenomena when a character comes pre-named.

I don’t have to ask people for help figuring out a name (I’ve driven a couple of people quite crazy with this). The name is perfect for the character and I can move on to other details of the person.

I don’t like to name characters after people I know well unless it is very subtle. It’s somewhat embarrassing to know that the namesake person will read the story and possibly will assume the character is named after them. Oh, I think it’s cool at first, but then I am scared of what that person may think about having their name borrowed for a character who may be presented truthfully, but not flatteringly, or not accurately at all.

That, and I might very well start a family war if I start naming characters after my siblings.

But there’s a problem. While there are thousands upon thousands of names in the world (and, as a fantasy author, I can make up names, occasionally), I know a lot of people. Some names may have to be shared.

Back to what I said earlier, I had a character come up to me earlier and introduce himself with the name of one of my good friends. I had already been planning to subtly insert my friend’s name into the story as a reference or walk-on character, but this character gave me his name and pretty much told me that he was more than a walk-on.

I looked through the list of beautiful Irish names I had just compiled and learned how to pronounce. I tried some of those names with him. But no.

He wanted the name he called himself.

This is my new character.


I know that’s really Eddie Redmayne, but author instinct tells me that’s my new character. The one stealing a friend’s name. The one who is most definitely more than a walk-on in the story I’m test-driving. I don’t know his purpose or his flaws or very much about him at all, but I know his name.

Author instinct is difficult to describe to people who aren’t authors and possibly still difficult to even describe to people to are authors. The Muse? Voices? Inspiration? It’s… you just know when something is right about the story and what’s a good idea and exactly who that character is.

So, here’s a question for you, readers: do I rebel against author instinct and name this character something different or do I allow him the name he wants?



19 thoughts on “To Name or Not to Name

  1. Ooh, so hard! I was having so much trouble naming a character. She kept saying that her name was Star, but that didn’t fit with her part in the story, or with the other names (Teel, Quar, Peri…), although it fit her perfectly. Then I came up with a super awesome name, which was apparently “cool” enough that she consented to the name change. πŸ˜‰ So she is now Reen. πŸ˜€ I’d say if you can’t find anything else, then keep with the name, and just warn your friend before they read it. πŸ˜‰

  2. I once had a character whose name I loved, and then later, I realized she needed a different name (I don’t remember exactly *why* the first name wouldn’t work. I think it was because the name would have been out-of-place for the country she lived in). At first, I kind of bristled at the idea of changing her name, but after I wrote about her some more, I got so wrapped up in the character that I didn’t care what her name was. Maybe, if you think you should change the guy’s name, just keep using the new name until you get used to it?

  3. For me names are the most difficult part (can you tell? I forget everyone’s names these days…even if they’ve definitely left a lasting impression on me). I can know everything about a new character of mine, to their childhoods, how they dress now, hopes and aspirations and even a few layers sometimes. But names? Gah. I can’t deal with naming them something that totally encaptulates their personality. Gah.
    (But on the muse/voice thing — yep, yep, yep, we certainly have those! You just become enlightened sometimes!)

    • YES. That happens to me sometimes, too. That’s when I ask for help naming a character and usually drive a few people nuts. I’ve recently found out that the first name that pops in my head for a new character is probably the best one. That’s be the muse/voice thing. And if it won’t work, I begin a quest for the perfect name!

  4. Give him that name, whatever it is! I’ve got a lot of characters with names of people I know, but I don’t care. I think, the characters mother didn’t care for me, when she named the this, so it’s totally okay, also the people with these names are no big readers. I don’t think, they’d relate that name to theirselves anyway, since the characters are very different from their name brothers/sisters. So, I’d recommend to give your character that name. Using another name always feels uneasy.

    That also reminds me, of realizing, that your characters have similar names as characters of famous books. Just imagine of calling the character of a Fantasy novel “Harry”. You know, it’s the perfect name, but either using the name, that feels uncomfortable because of Harry Potter, and not using it too, because you know that every other name is just a substitute

    • Very true! I hadn’t thought about that. It’d be hard to name a character Katniss or Harry or Bella these days.
      I decided to let him have that name, but he has a more common nickname that fits with his personality. Thanks for the advice! πŸ™‚

  5. Ooh, tricky situation. If the character isn’t obviously just like your friend or doesn’t share many of the same characteristics, I think you’re okay. If you’re also good enough friends with this person, you could talk to him, too. If he’s going to read your story, you could assure him that you didn’t base your character off of him, that it was just the name that you needed for this character. I actually wrote an entire book where the characters’ names were just slightly off from people I knew in real life, but none of the characters had the same personalities, and it was all in good fun. My friends actually really enjoyed it.

    Naming characters is my favorite part of creating them! πŸ™‚ But it seems like the names come in extremes: either they come pre-named and ready to go, or I have to spend hours searching for the perfect ones. Some of my favorite character names that have come to are Cecilia Fox, Cassandra Day, Cosmo Moonshine (apparently I like names that start with ‘c’), Anya Perriwinkle, Raven, August Knight, and Maya Rose.

    • Very true. I’m just not entirely sure how this friend would react. I once (accidentally) named a character after a friend’s little brother and she was upset about that. Different friend this time, but still.
      YES. They’re often in extremes for me, too. I like Cecilia Fox and August Knight! Ooh! And Maya Rose! πŸ™‚
      Thanks for the advice. πŸ™‚

  6. Ooh, definitely a hard problem, though it sounds like you have it all figured out?

    When I was seven, I was trying to name a character and I was looking through a dictionary, rather than on a name generator or something, and I found the word “shimmer”, and I thought it would just be the most awesome name I’d ever seen. And so she was named Shimmer. For years after, I still thought it was the coolest name, but as other characters in the story were named other things like Wyell and Shafira, I realized the name didn’t fit. But since she had been named Shimmer for seven or eight years by that point, I just couldn’t change it. She was Shimmer, and there was nothing I could do about it. The fact that it didn’t fit drove me crazy, though.

    What I ended up doing was changing her name to Shimara, because that was similar enough that it seemed to fit her and also fit the world, but I have one character in the story who nicknamed her Shimmer, so that way… her name is Shimara, but she is still sort of Shimmer, so I can continue to call her that and not feel bad.

  7. I’ve tried to change characters names when they come ‘pre-named’, but it never sticks. However, I have never named character after a close friend- I’ll be interested to hear what you decide to do!

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