Name Theory: How Can I Name Thee…

Everything from your novel’s world to your character’s parents can influence the name you choose for your character. There are so many ways to discover the “perfect” name for a character. I’m going to use this week’s character as an example, and count some of the ways the writer could have chosen to name her.

1. Use the Alternate Universe as an Inspiration

This concept, which I liked so much, could be used to create a whole naming style for the characters from the “other” universe that is distinct from our own. The writer would have to rename all of the characters, but using this would help to define the universes as separate and unique places. To make the universes distinct you could choose out-of-date names for the alternate (choose names that were popular about 20 years before the characters would have been born); you could use names that are extremely rare (which have never been on the top 1000 list); or you could imagine what names would be popular in a world where a different outcome to certain events happened (e.g. a world in which the Nazis won, a world in which Rome never fell, a world in which America is primarily inhabited by Native Americans).

2. Use the Character’s Ancestry as Inspiration

This character was said to be “probably of English or Irish descent.” The writer could have (as I often do) looked for names with English or Irish origins, assuming that the character may have been named for a relative or that the parents (especially if they were raised in that country) want to honor their culture or may just prefer names from their culture.

3. Use the Parents Personalities

We all know (or we all should know) that characters are not props to move the plot along: Characters are people living lives who happen to live out an interesting plot. We also know how we want our characters to act, and should be able to imagine what kind of parents and life experiences would shape the characters into the people they are. Therefore, if we know what kind of parents they have, we can have those parents “name” the character by thinking of what kind of name the controlling mother would give or the mama’s boy father would give. Since people are named by parents with a variety of preferences (I want to honor my family, I want my child to be unique, I want to choose a smart sounding name, etc.), a writer can use the type of parents their character would have to inspire the name those parents would have chosen.


These are just a few of the ways this writer could have named this character, and I would love to have seen what name this character would have gotten if these techniques were used (Candria? Imogen? Olive?). The possibilities are unending.

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