Name Theory: The Read-head, White-Blonde, and Blue-Black of Character

Naming is part of your character development. The character’s name is part of who your character is, and how she or he expresses self to the world.

Most often when I see people requesting character name help online—at Yahoo! Answers or on Nameberry—they describe their character’s hair color and eye color and height (all things the reader will rarely be reminded of) and fail to mention much about the personality and character qualities.

When you give a superficial description of your character, you’re going to get superficial name suggestions. If you want thoughtful name suggestions, you need to give a thoughtful description.

Like this week’s writer. She told me the story of her characters, and gave me their major qualities, and offered a bit of their on-going development.

Unlike the main character’s hair color (which this writer thankfully never mentioned), throughout the story readers are going to see her estrangement from her family, her introversion, and her money and health issues. These will all matter more to the character’s development than any physical description.

Like I say to my writing group: If it’s not important to the story, it’s not important. And, if it is important, make sure it’s really important.

If your character has to have red hair because it is a quiet clue to her real parentage (another red haired character), then it’s important. If your character has red hair because she’s tempestuous, then it’s a cheesy cliché and far from important to the character’s description.

If your character has blond hair and she lives in Renaissance Italy where blond hair was a beauty ideal that could affect her chances of attracting a good prospect for marriage, then it matters. If your character has blond hair to show that she’s pretty, then you have probably created a one-dimensional character and her hair color doesn’t matter as much as your lack of creativity.

If your character is a brunette who colors her hair to help hide her identity from her villainous pursuer, then her hair color is important to the story. If your character is a brunette who blends in because brown hair is boring, then her hair isn’t as important as her want of true characterization.

Good character names will help good characters, but nothing will help more than making sure that your character is fully developed. Make sure you can tell the story of your character, outside of just relating the facts of your character’s looks, and you will be one step closer to discovering that great character name and to writing a great story.


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