Are the names of your characters important/significant?

As the ever-famous Bard once wrote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.” Which can be true, to a point, but writers can be crafty sometimes. Sometimes we aim for symbolism or deeper meaning. Sometimes a rose is just a rose. We asked the Confabulators this week about how much thought they put into their character names.

Paul Swearingen

Some of the names of my characters, like “Arianna”, for example, are just ones that I’ve always liked. On the other hand “Arianna’s” sister “Lindi” is both a tribute to a former student who lost her life due to complications from diabetes when she was in her late 40’s and an echo of the name (“Lindsay”) of the daughter of another student, who managed to get herself written into one of my Nanowrimo books because of some funny remarks she made to me the night before Nanowrimo was to start. Her little brother (“Jaz”), whom I included in the story just because has a completely different name than my made-up one. When I told him I had used “Jaz” for his name, he informed me that he preferred the name “Jake” (he was seven at the time). So he got written into the current work-in-progress as “Jake”. He’d probably be horrified if I told him that “Jake” turned out to be an incorrigible brat, though.

Ashley M. Poland

Not always, and in fact, pretty rarely. If I’m going to change a name, then I’ll look for something that has a thematic meaning — or if I’m inventing a character from scratch, I might look for something that fits the story. For instance, in a book I’m working on now I was using randomly generated names, which came before the story even had a plot. By the 75K word mark, I realized that not only did I dislike my main character’s name, but it didn’t reflect what I had decided about her heritage. So I changed it (and her brother’s).

Christie Holland

Character names are both the most significant part of your story and the least. On one hand, it’s an opportunity to give your readers insight into the personality of a character, whether they choose to go by the name they were given or not, as well as into their home life. A parent who names their son “John” is going to be much different from the one that names their son “Lucifer.” I always try to add a little bit of meaning to a name, but at the end of the day, a name is just a name. As long as it fits your character, it doesn’t really matter.

Kevin Wohler

In my early years, I tried very hard to give my main characters names that 1) made them memorable, and 2) described them to a certain degree. I ended up with with characters with names like “Jade,” “Knox” and “Jazz.” This was — in a word — inadvisable. Nowadays, I give my characters ordinary names, only getting creative when I have to come up with superhero handles.

Jason Arnett

I can honestly say that ever since I read the uncut edition of Stranger in a Strange Land I have considered the names of my characters. Sometimes I worry about the meaning of the name, more often I don’t. What I consider more than anything else is how the names flow with one another. Being honest, I want the dialogue to read well and the names to be linked with each other like Sam and Diane, Buck  and Wilma, Flash and Dale, the Lone Ranger and Tonto. I do look up the meanings of the names but only after I’ve established that they work together.

Ted Boone

I try to have names that resonate. I also try to only use each letter of the alphabet once for first names: makes them easier to remember/organize.

Sara Lundberg

I am terrible at coming up with names, even simple ones, and it’s probably because I want them all to be significant somehow. I always look up the meaning of a name before using it in a story to be sure that it fits the character. Every now and then a character will announce his or her name and I’m stuck using it even if it doesn’t have significance, although even then it usually turns out that there’s some kind of significance I wasn’t consciously aware of. And sometimes a name is only significant to me.

Cafe Management is run by the administration of The Confabulator Cafe. We keep things running smoothly, post stories by guest authors, and manage other boring back-end tasks.


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