Name Theory: Character, Culture, and Style

What does our culture admire? Celebrity. Novelty. Money. Power.

The names people give children in our culture reflect those qualities. Miley. Nevaeh. Armani. Wesson.

To contras,t look at the names given in Renaissance Italy, where family and tradition were admired. There girls were given their mothers’ names, or feminine versions of their fathers’ names. Boys were named after their uncles and grandfathers. And if a child who was given a family name died, the name was passed on to another child so that the honor or the namesake lived on. Names like Margherita, Antonia, Giovanni, Piero, and Bartolo were favored for generations.

Look to your characters’ culture, or the overall culture of your novel, to create a naming style for your book.

Maybe your character was raised between cultures and is conflicted about who he is, so Kristopher Kim’s name tells a story of two parents giving a child two identities and the child who has to carve out one identity for himself.

Maybe your fantasy novel features a traditional culture where the women cook and take care of the home and are very in tune with nature, and the men travel and provide for the family and are more streetwise. Perhaps there the girls are given herb names, like Rosemary and Fennel, and the boys are given place names like Matlock and Croydon.

Maybe your Young Adult Paranormal features a culture of witches who try to hide their world from their “normal” neighbors. The main characters in this culture may sport names that are almost normal but which mean something like spirit (Huey and Enid) or power (Emery and Gitta).

Consider what matters to your characters, to their parents, and to their culture, and let that effect and narrow the scope of names you chose for them. By settling on what the culture’s priorities are, you can set a standard for what types of names would be common there, and use this knowledge to help create a cohesive society of like-named characters.

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