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Creating Character Names With Character

     Who wants to know about Joe Blow?  Nobody.  So why would you give a character in your book a name that turns people off?  The first step to building interesting characters that will resonate with your readers is to baptize your creations with names that make them interesting and distinctive.

     Every person, place, and thing has a name.  Names designate, describe, label, identify, and illustrate.  When God created man, he first gave him life then he gave him a name.  And in turn, Adam named the creatures of the field, air, and water.  The act of naming is second nature to us.

     But we have taken for granted this powerful privilege of naming.  We flippantly toss out names as if they are nothing more than labels, when in fact names affect personality, appearance, and social capacity.  It was once thought that when a name was given, a mystical influence was exerted over its bearer.  Names give life.  Names condemn.  By naming an object, we categorize it.  By naming a person, we connect him to his soul.

     It is an ancient belief that names hold power.  By knowing another’s name, one could essentially have control over its bearer.  That is why the proper name of God was not used by the Hebrews.  Others believed that evil could be averted by changing one’s name or refusing to reveal it.  In Arthurian mythology, it was considered a breach of honor to reveal one’s name before battle.  But once the battle was fought, the defeated was obligated to reveal his name to the victor.

     When creating characters in your writing, the name should be handpicked to fit the personality of the individual you are bringing to life.  Think about the physical, emotional, spiritual, and social traits of your character, and choose a name that labels your character accordingly.  Using a common or boring name will label your character as such.  

     Choose one attribute to tag your character.  Then find a name that has that meaning.  Baby name books or websites are perfect places to search for names and their meanings.  You may also think of a real person to model your character after.  Choosing the first name of that person or a name similar will fit your character better than pulling a name out of thin air.

     Consider the character’s background.  Where do the character’s ancestors come from?  What does the character do for a living?  Choose a last name that fits your character’s origins and occupation.  Many of today’s last names designate where a person’s family originated or what his ancestors did to put bread on the table.  Consider the surnames Jordan, England, Cooper, and Smith.  There is a reason people have a first and last name.

     In my book Island of Tory, the main character is named Arella Cline.  Arella’s parents are both Irish-American, so I chose an obviously Irish surname.  Because Cline is a very common name, I combined it with an unusual first name to make my protagonist’s name distinct and memorable.  Like the fairy tale Cinderella, my character is transformed by magic and a little help from some kind and mysterious island folk.  I used a play on words to come up with the name Arella.

     The main antagonist of my story is named Declan McQuilan.  He is an island resident who befriends Arella on her first day at the Academy.  Declan appears to be a great guy at the beginning of the novel, but turns out to be a very self-absorbed, evil character.  The name Declan means full of goodness, and that is just the impression he makes on Arella when they first meet.  I purposely used this name to give a sense of irony to the situation. 

     No story is complete without a love triangle.  So I created Cannon Fidelous as my unlikely hero.  Cannon is a fellow American trapped on Tory Island.  He does not like the island or its inhabitants.  He is a loner until he meets Arella.  I chose the name Cannon because he really is a loose cannon type of character.  The name Fidelous is derived from the Latin fidel which means faithful.  And Cannon turns out to be the most faithful of friends to Arella.

     So had I named one of my main characters Joe Blow, would you still want to read Island of Tory when it is released in March 2012? 

     I didn’t think so.

Regina M. Geither is a writer, teacher, and mother of three.
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