Name Theory: The Reader, The Hater, and The Baby Namer

It’s not about YOU.

It’s not about ME.

It’s about the writing.

When it comes to naming fictional characters it doesn’t matter what you like, or what name has the best “meaning”, or how many syllables the name has. What matters is what name best suits the character, best suits the story, and best suits the world of the story.

This past week I saw a writer in a tizzy because someone, hereafter known as Hater, complained because her character’s name did not have some hidden meaning. Seriously? I told the writer that Hater’s gonna hate, and just ignore it.

A hidden meaning is only a “bonus”, it’s not a necessity. It’s much more important to name your grandmother character something like Nanna Bitsy rather than something like Grandma Aphrodite because “Aphrodite stands for love, and it stands for the grandmother being the one person who embodies love for the main character.”

Now, I would suggest you check that the name for the character that embodies love in your story doesn’t have a name that means hate, or destruction, or death. But the character doesn’t need to have a name with “meaning”.

The other thing the character doesn’t need is a name that you like. And the character especially doesn’t need the name that you wanted to give to your baby but your husband wouldn’t let you.

Your character is not your baby. Your character is a person who will not be held back by any arbitrary limits you place on him or her (if your character is just a puppet then your story is going to suck).

And, you know what? The readers don’t really care what you like. If you like the name Hampus and give it to your hero/love interest, the readers will not care that it is your favorite name, or your great grandfather’s name, or that it means “bright home”; readers will care that it looks like Ham Pus and sounds like Ham Poos and isn’t at all appropriate for your wild west cowboy.

A romance novel hero needs a sexy name (like Luke, or Jake, or Gabriel, or any of the 12 names that almost every romance novel hero has), and his lady needs a slightly unusual feminine name or maybe even an everyday name that will make her relatable.

A cowboy needs a strong name that may be reminiscent of nature or survival (like Colt or Archer).

A Young Adult dystopian female lead needs a rare name, which is a real name, which may somehow relate to nature and which sounds very feminine (like Cassia or Gaia).

The name you chose should tell your reader who the character is (this is Andy, the friend-guy, and this is Armando, the love interest), and not what you like (this is Al, a guy in this story with the name of the son I never had after 3 girls and a tubal ligation).

Don’t be blinded by your own preferences (Johanna is the most beautiful name in the world so all my heroines will be named Johanna), or give in to Hater (Hater is a bully). Just name your character a name that helps the reader understand him or her, and let the name serve the story.

That’s the one thing that matters most: That the reader is able to get into your story, your writing, your world, and your characters.

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