Coming up with just the right names for your characters is not as simple as you might think. If you write more than one story, character names can quickly get out of control. It helps to have a list or three handy.
List 1: names you’ve heard that you like
These names might be gleaned from movie credit rolls, people you’ve met or read about, current popular figures (celebrity types, though watch out for clichés – I know, that’s nearly all of them…)
I like the credit rolls from television shows or movies. There are some classics listed. If you’re short of name choices watch the end credits of The Avengers. Thousands of people are listed. I don’t know how this movie made any money with the payroll they must have had!
Names of friends are best avoided unless your character is a fictional version of them and you want them to know. In one manuscript, I have named a group of minor characters after my work buddies at the time (with their permission). I’ve also described them so that there is no doubt about who they are. I’m confident I got them right too as not long afterward we became involved in almost the exact conversation that I had previously written up as fictional!
List 2: names you’ve researched for a specific meaning
In the same manuscript mentioned above, I’ve also used names that had a certain meaning. It isn’t part of the storyline though so most people wouldn’t notice. However, the meaning is referenced by the main character. You don’t have to go to that much trouble. I like playing with names and meanings to the point where it becomes a private joke with myself (scary, I know). I have a novel coming out later this year. If you can find my “private jokes” I’ll send you an e-medal to wear.
With main characters, it could be wise to research name meanings to ensure you don’t give the wrong impression, align it with someone you’d prefer not to, or suggest a stereotype. I use a mix of common and less common names that suit the character. There’s no point calling someone “Mary” when they’re more like an “Isobel”.
List 3: names you’ve already used
I do this all the time – get stuck on a name and use it over again. I often find the character is similar as well and have to make changes to both so they can be seen as individuals in different stories rather than a continuation of the same old John, Jane or Henrietta… This occurs when the stories are written a few years apart (how quickly I seem to forget). If you notice this happening in your stories go back to list no. 1 or put The Avengers DVD on to play…
Links you might find useful:
I use MS Excel for all my lists and planning.