Name Theory: Variety is Spice

Variety, it’s the spice of life, no? So why not try some variety in your character name choices to add some spice to the characters and the story?

In Monday’s Character of the Week, I chose a variety of names to give the writer an array of choices. Each name I chose had its own spice to add to the flavor of the novel.

The writer’s “placeholder” name for this week’s character, Amy, was a popular name for when the character would have been born and would seem to be the right choice for the parents to have chosen. But no matter how appropriate it is, it doesn’t fit the character.

It has no spice.

This lesbian, with friends named Devin and Anika, needed a name with more strength, more sass, or more culture. The character wasn’t a one-of-many Amy, she was someone who stood out a little. And since she was adopted, her name didn’t need to be limited by the type of name her parents’ might have chosen, since she may have had her name before she met them.

This is why I let myself chose a name like Carmen, a name with culture and sass and strength that Meryl and Chris may not have chosen. Carmen, with all of its spice, could give this character a slightly different bend. She could be someone who was always a bit of an outsider, which made her quirky, and only added a depth to her mother’s acceptance of her differences.

I also chose the name Sheena as a sassy and strong name for this independent business owner with a bit of childishness, because it offered a spice. Sheena would be tough on the outside, but with a sentimental core. She would be a challenge to live with, but she would enrich everyone’s lives around her.

Lindsay was a more typical choice for the character. It’s like an Amy name (popular), but with more attitude. This name focused on the strength of the character, her determination with some OCD on the side. Lindsay would be a secondary character who brings the drama, and while the others might find her abrasive they would ultimately appreciate the skills she brings to the table.

The other two names I offered, Natalie (Nat) and Danielle (Dani), were both choices that matched the flavor of the writer’s choice for the other lesbian character, Joanna (Jo). They are feminine names with boyish nicknames. They are both religious names that became popular. They both have some sass, and I could see Nat or Dani go from being a sweetheart to throwing a temper tantrum in a matter of minutes. The only difference between these names is that I see Nat as a bit more annoying and Dani as a bit more nasty (at times).

Each name I chose offered its own interpretation of the character.

When choosing names for your character, try using the same technique. Look at a name from a different culture and imagine how that would influence the character you envision. Look for a name that seems a little over the top for the character, and think about how it might affect the level of drama surrounding that character. Look for a name that may be popular but has just the right edge for your character. Or look at a name with nickname potential, or a name that is similar to the sort of name you’ve already chosen, to see how a slight change could affect the feel of the character.

Search for names that add spice to your writing—a little salt to bring out more flavor or some pepper to add bite—and you may just find yourself inspired.

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