7 Mistakes to Avoid When Naming Characters

What's in a name?

Character's names are very important, and they deserve to be chosen with care. Unfortunately, there are several pitfalls involved in naming characters. This post is here to help.

Below are seven things you need to take into account when naming book characters. This may not be a complete list, but it includes all the mistakes I've had to avoid throughout my years of writing.

1. Make sure the character's full name sounds good

The name Ellia sounds good on its own, but Ellia Halliday has too many Ls in it. Ellia Lily Halliday is even worse.

Sound out your character's full name. If it sounds wrong, you'll need to tweak it (hint: it's usually easier to change middle and last names than it is to change first names). Continuing the example above, we could change Ellia Lily Halliday to Ellia Kitty Hannigan.

2. Check the ethnicity of your names

Most of the time, it's pretty obvious where a name comes from. You sometimes need to check,  though, especially when you're naming a character who is not from your own country.

Let's say you're trying to name an Indian character. Talisha is a lovely, exotic-sounding name, but a quick internet search will show that it is an African-American name. You don't want to mix ethnicities (unless, of course, there's a reason for it), because that just makes you seem ignorant of other cultures. Make use of the internet to check whether your names are right for your characters' background.

3. Check the time period

If you're writing a historical novel set in the 1800s, don't call your characters Ariana and Jaden. If you're writing about modern-day teenagers, don't call your characters Norman and Sue. Names need to fit the character, but they also need to fit the era in which the characters live.

4. Don't go overboard

Names like Apollo Phoenix and Seraphina Destiny might work if you're writing hard Sci-Fi or High Fantasy, but they'll just come off as over-the-top for most genres. If you're set on having a cool name, try having a cool first name and a normal last name, or vice versa. Apollo Phoenix could become George Phoenix, and Seraphina Destiny could become Seraphina Hunt.

5. Use nicknames sparingly

Unless you're writing a story about a gang, most of your characters should not have nicknames, or even shortened versions of their normal names. It's perfectly fine to have a Lizzie here and a Sam there, but if nobody in your book goes by their full name, that gets a little bit unbelievable.

6. Ensure that your characters' names are sufficiently different

Don't have several characters whose names start with the same letter. Don't have several characters whose names rhyme. Don't have characters whose names look similar on the page (Lena and Lana; Tom and Tim).

Write out all your characters' names on a sheet of paper (including their last and middle names if they have them). Do any of them look similar? If they do, you might need to change someone's name (see my post about renaming characters).

7. Does it work?

When all is said and done, you need to be sure that the name fits the character. Only you can decide this, but you have to be honest with yourself about it.

After reading through these seven points, you might find yourself needing to rename a character. Yes, it's a real pain, but if it's necessary then you just have to go for it. Here's a post on renaming characters if you need some help.

Happy naming!

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