Naming a Character vs. Naming a Child

You’re a writer. How do you go about naming a character? 

To me, it depends on the kind of character you’re naming. What’s the character’s personality like? What are some of their physical highlights? Would it be strange to meet a person like that in real life who has that name? What are some of the shorter versions of the name, or nicknames, that other characters could call him/her? 

Have you had a name floating around in your head for awhile? Do you know what it means? I would highly suggest looking up the meaning of the name before you stick it with a character … Adyna may sound lovely for a fetching female character, but the meaning of it is “wretched.” Believe me, your fans will look it up if your character is a treasured favorite. It doesn’t fit. 

Babynames.com

That is one of my favorite go-to websites for character names. Sure, you’ll feel like a weirdo getting on there for the first time, because the website is geared toward young mothers and fathers looking for a name. But it works. This website lists the country of origin and the meaning of each name, plus if you scroll down, you can see photos of people with that name. I find this feature very helpful when I’m trying to visualize my character with a particular name.

Babycenter.com

This is a great site where you can look up the popularity of a name by year, country of origin, and similar names and variations which may be more precise to your character’s personality. Looking for an older name? This website has a feature where you can look up the statistics of the popularity of a name all the way back to 1880! Victorian name lovers, look no further.

And my personal favorite … sheknows.com

In the baby names portion. You can not only look up the country of origin and meaning of the name, but this website also gives you defining characteristics of people with that name. Are they strong-willed? Compassionate? This site really hits the nail on the head with this personality definition. And I’m not kidding – I looked up my name, Ruth, and two of the things it listed me as was a singer and a writer. I do both. Scarily accurate. Dare you to look up your name and see what you find! 🙂

Have you ever noticed how several people with the same name will often share some personality trait in common? I’m a teacher, so I’ve seen lots of kids with the same name in different classrooms. And I’ll tell you what – it’s true. It doesn’t matter what age they are. From kindergarten all the way up to high school, kids with the same name share certain traits in common.

Ever met someone else with your name? Noticed you might have something in common? It might not present itself right away. It’s hard to tell just by scratching the surface with a mere acquaintance. I bet if you really got to know them, you’d find something you both share in common. 

Sometimes I find names for characters just by meeting several people with the same name.

What else should you consider when naming a character?  How old is he/she? What time period is the setting of the story in? Is the name suitable not only to the character’s personality, but also to the time in which he or she is living? 

On a personal note, my experience with naming characters wasn’t as relevant to me until recently. I am sitting here as a 9 month pregnant woman who has had to take a giant step back from the naming game. Can’t just pick a name for your own kid and then decide what she’ll look like. Nature doesn’t let you choose what your own child’s personality and physical features will be like. 

That’s a lot different from naming a character. A character is malleable. A real kid isn’t. With a character, you can pick the name first and then mold the features of that character around the name. With a child, you get what nature gives you, and then you are tasked with finding an appropriate title for the little miracle. 

SOOO, to all you other pregnant or hopeful mommies out there, I say to you: if you wish to find a perfect name for your child, do a little research. How? Well what’s your personality like? What’s your partner’s personality like? If you or your partner could have another name, what would they be? I found that a good way to start. As the day approaches for the child to be born, whittle down your selections to just a handful. My husband and I have two picked out. Sorry, can’t share what they are yet… we’re sworn to secrecy until she’s born. 🙂 You may not have long to wait. I will say that as a couple, we prefer traditional names, family names, and as a teacher, I don’t want to see my little girl being one of five Olivias in her kindergarten class. It has to fit with our long last name that starts with an O. Initials are such a huge thing to consider! What if we named her Patricia Olivia? POO? That sounds like a nightmare in the schoolyard waiting to happen. 

Above all, whether naming a character or a child, I would say the most important thing to consider is the fit. It’s like finding a good pair of jeans – if you really want a good one, you’ll invest a little time in thinking it all through and doing the research for it. 

Hoping this was helpful to someone out there. 🙂

Ruth Anne Meredith

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