“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
An author can say so much about a character by simply choosing a suitable name. In the sentence above, readers know all they need to about Eustace. It is one of my favorite opening lines and character desciptions.
I thoroughly enjoy making up names for characters. I am interested in names in general and have been since I was a kid. Back then, I loved making up names for imaginary people — good training for a fiction writer. I also liked looking up what names meant and from what language they originated.
The name of a character provides an image of him or her as much as the author’s description of the character’s features. If I created a powerful family with a long history of political connections, I couldn’t use a name like “Yokum”. That name has been used too much to label a character as rural or rural and poor. Names like “Arlington”, “Stone’, or “Pierce” makes the family sound powerful.
If I named a character who is a free-spirited young woman, I wouldn’t use anything as common as “Sarah”, or “Jane”, or even “Madison” or “Mackenzie”. Nature names, by “nature”, sound liberating and original, unless they are well-known ones like “Rose” or “Dawn”. A name that is hardly used anymore, like “Cassandra” or “Felicity”, might also work.
Sometimes you can choose a name that means the opposite of the qualities your character possesses. A free-spirit named Sarah might mean that she wants to break free from an ordinary past, signaled by her name, into a less conventional future. But usually it is better to let the name work with the character’s features or personality than against it.
Next time, I will discuss some of my favorite sources for finding names, both first and last.