All name choices in fiction should be suitable and believable. They should stand out by the fact that they suit the character perfectly. Here are some guidelines to choosing wisely. The sound, connotations and origins of the name all send a subtle message to the reader
Look Through Name Books
Name books include baby books and telephone directories. Most libraries have copies of books that list boys’ and girls’ names along with their meanings. Telephone directories are good for picking out surnames. The Internet has many resources as well and is useful for researching foreign names.
Many names slot into a certain generation. For example Betty, Shirley and Dorothy are not in common use today but were popular 50 years ago. Make sure that the name is one that fits with the character’s age.
Certain names have strong associations with celebrities or famous people and will detract from a fictional story. Examples are Adolf, Madonna, Barak, and OJ. Having said that, these types of names do work at times and can add to characterization. Just be careful how it is done.
Characterization Through Names
When people read a name, they often conjure up a picture related to it. A girl-next-door type character will have a simple name like Sally, Jane or Susan. A prostitute will have a more exotic name such as Burgundy or Bianca. The hero in a romance will normally have a strong name like Blake or Chad. Flip through novels and look at the names used.
If the story includes a character with a foreign name, be sure to research it properly. For example, if writing about a woman from India, determine whether her name should be Muslim or Hindu. If possible, check with someone who is familiar with the culture in question.
Names Must Sound Different
When writing fiction, make sure that the names sound different and start with a different letter. Stories that include Janice, Jane, Jasmine and Janine or Mick, Mike and Nick will become very confusing to the reader.
Watch out for Initials
If a character’s full name is given, be careful that the initials don’t spell something that will detract from the story. If a judge is called Graham Anthony Seddon, his initials will be GAS. This can add subtle comedy in certain genres but make sure it is appropriate.
First Names and Surnames
Main characters normally are given a first name and surname. Minor characters usually get by with just a first name.
Nicknames Reveal Character
This is true in life and true in fiction. A nickname can add strong characterization and add interest to a story. Think of titles such as Stumpy, Frog, Angel and Squat.
Names are an important part of fiction writing and with careful consideration and research, can strengthen characterization and reveal background. It is worth spending time on choosing the best names possible.