hello-1502386_1280Naming Names

“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.