Everyone has personal taboo names, names they hate for good reasons or no reason at all. As a kid, I had traumatic confrontations with children named Tracy, Shelly, and Troy. I don’t like any of those names as an adult. When I needed a name for a shady character, I picked Troy but not to get revenge on a past nemesis. I just didn’t see why I should give a name I like to a character I don’t.
Then there are names I don’t like simply because I don’t like them. When my husband and I were searching for names for our second child, he came up with a list of three boys’ names: Cole, Gabe, and Nate. I told him under no circumstances could we use Nate. I have never liked Nathan or Natalie or any name similar to them, like Ethan. In the first short story I published, a murderous woman is named Natalie. It has nothing to do with any people associated with those names. I just don’t like the sound of them.
Your turn. What are some of your personal taboo names?
“Why do you give your characters and places such odd names?”
Mr. McManus explains that naming his characters Retch or Rancid or the Troll immediately tells the reader something about those characters. He adds, “Because of the brevity required for short humor, one must continually look for way to save words. Comically descriptive names for characters and places are one of mine.”
Descriptive nicknames can work in longer fiction, too. In the mystery A Fool and His Monet by Sandra Orchard, FBI agent Serena Jones catches two men peddling stolen art. Since she doesn’t know their names, she calls them “Baldy” and “Sidekick”. The main character in Marissa Shrock’s The First Principle, a dystopian Christian fiction YA novel, overhears a conversation between two women who are strangers to her. Based on their appearances, she calls them “Puffy” and “Pudgy”.
In both examples, the main characters nickname minor ones because they don’t know their names. The nicknames tell readers something about those minor characters and it’s more concise for the author to write “Baldy” rather than “the bald man” or Puffy rather than “the woman with the puffy face.”
I have a special affection for nicknames because I use them for family members. In my novel, I have character who nicknames almost everyone. He calls his nephew who is a drummer “Sticks” and another nephew who wears a cowboy hat “Cowboy”.
Nicknames not only tell you something about the character with the name, but also about the person who invented it. If a teen calls his math teacher “the Fuhrer”, that reveals qualities about the teacher and the teen.
I think having a character hand out nicknames and giving them to major characters make all your characters seem more real. Many of us have nicknames, sometimes tied to our family relationships, hobbies, jobs, or physical characteristics, and those nicknames highlight different aspects of our life. They can do the same for your characters.
Keep nicknames in mind for humor, brevity, description, or character development.
If you have been following my blog long, you know I love creating names for characters. I did a series of posts earlier in the year about what I’ve learned about this kind of writing. If you haven’t read them, here are the links for Post #1, Post #2, and Post #3 on naming characters.
I don’t write science fiction or fantasy, and those genres have their own unique rules for creating names. This post at Almost An Author covers this topic. Ms. Zimmerman’s first idea of looking at the root of words reminded me of how unfamiliar Latin words can make original names.
My husband likes birds, and we have bird identifiction books. As I was perusing one of them, I began reading the Latin names. The name for a barn owl is “Tyto alba”. I think that’s a great name for a fantasy hero. It sounds strong and noble. If it’s a heroine, you could flip it,”Alba Tyto.” It’s unusual but easy to pronounce, which is critical for your readers.
Other Latin words with name potential are “Strix”, “Asio”, “Surnia Ulula” — a northern hawk-owl — “Athene,” “Nyctea”, “Saya”, and “Sasin”.
If you write in either science fiction or fantasy and need to create names, where do you get your inspiration?