November 19, 2011
Researching Character Names

I know it’s a little late in the month to be worried about names of all things, but I thought I might share a few tips in case any of you are stuck or having second thoughts about your name choices!

We all associate certain looks or personalities with names we already know and because of that some writers just choose whatever names come to them for their characters. If you have a good idea of your character’s personality you should intuitively be able to tell what names “fit” and which ones just don’t.

Aside from just feeling it out though, a lot of writers choose names for much more specific reasons… like the meaning behind it, the geographical origin, or because of some sort of mythology. Writers like J.K. Rowling probably spend months researching their characters names, The characters in the Harry Potter series just about all have a first and last name with a meaning or a derivation in some kind of myth that relates to who they are. For example Remus Lupin is a werewolf… his first name, Remus, is in reference to the myth of Romulus and Remus the twin brothers who founded Rome, the twins were abandoned as children and raised by a female wolf; his last name, Lupin, comes from the species name Canus Lupis which includes all wolves, domestic dogs and dingos.

Of course in writing a novel in one month we don’t all have the luxury of spending days doing research (unless of course you started prepping yourself in October), but there are some quick things you can do to help yourself become inspired if you are stuck on a name. Here are some of my favorite name research techniques:

-Go to a book store/library and pick up a baby name book, these are a great resource because they usually contain not only meanings but origins, nicknames, etc.

-Alternately you can use a site like babynames.com or similar where they have an advanced search function, there you can type in a meaning and they will give you a list of relevant names.

-For last names you can try a site like behindthename.com or Ancestry.com which both have a search function for surnames.

-Wiki, wiki, wiki. Especially for mythology, historical names, latin root words. Wikipedia is great for this because you can look up one vague topic and just keep skimming and clicking through in-text links until you come across something helpful.

-Also just google searches are usually helpful, try “Russian last names” or “first names that mean brave/snakelike/happy/etc”

Finding a good name can be really helpful for character development too because it forces you to really focus on their most essential characteristics and also it helps you take things into account that you may not have thought of before like their nationality or who they may have been named after.

Hope this was helpful for some of you!

-Camille