What do you think writers did before the internet, when it came time to name their characters? Do you think they used phone books? What about Shakespeare? What did he do? I'm going to ask my friend who specialized in Shakespearean literature in grad school if he ever recycled names from play to play. Not that Shakespeare couldn't have come up with enough unique names to keep his plays fresh and unique, of course. He was The Bard, after all.
Not me, though. I've got the interwebs, and that means I can find any name I want for any character I want, and not only does it not have to be hard, it's also quite a lot of fun to choose my character's names.
I'd thought I'd handled the bulk of that, early on. Some names just came to me intuitively as I considered character personalities, ages, and lifestyles. Others, not so much. A handful are listed in my files as "Holly's local friend 2" and "Male [type of business] owner," because I didn't want to get so caught up in "playing" at character naming that I didn't do the actual work of writing. I'll sort those folks out when it comes time that they need names.
Today I discovered a brand new character, and I had to find her a name, rather than waiting. I think I have found it, too, using the impressively comprehensive BabyNames.com. But guess what else I found? There is an entire resource on this site written just for writers! Turns out I'm not the only one using baby naming resources for choosing my character's names. ;) Heh. And so my new character has a name.
The most important part of all, though? I also discovered, while reading "Character Names - Tips for Writers on Naming Characters," that I've misnamed one of my characters. Who knew? Here's what happened: there's this name I like a lot. If I gave birth to a little girl tomorrow, it may very well be the name I gave her. I don't know where I first heard the name "Nyla," and I don't know why I like it so much. I mean, it could easily be the name of a magnificent designer, a demure CPA, or a quirky boutique owner. But this name would also be appropriate for an exotic dancer, wouldn't it? I get that it's not for everybody. Shut up. I like it and there you have it.
Turns out I'm not having a baby tomorrow. So a while back, I decided to do the next best thing! I gave one of my characters this name. Holly's sister, in fact. But when I read Tip 3, I realized maybe I'd treaded too close to the edge. It is now imperative for me to change Nyla's name:
Romance novels and soap operas and strippers all have one thing in common—they evoke a fantasy of romance and/or sex. Characters in these genres tend to have names that are more exotic, like Chesapeake Divine or Rod Remington. If you are not writing a romance or soap opera, however, this kind of name can sound silly and out of place.
Mine is not a romance novel. This paragraph jumped out at me, however, because I had to admit that there's just no need for this particular character to be gifted with this particular name. Even if I like the name, (and enjoy thinking that any Wholly Fabricated Future Daughter I will not be having, would naturally grow up to make something fine of herself, and she would own the evocative name well and solidly, creating the finest imagery in mind for all who heard it hereafter,) it's not a chance I need to take on an important but certainly not central character in this novel. So now I need to find her a new name.
It seems I quite agree with conventional writing wisdom. We should choose characters' names carefully, much like we'd choose the names of our new tiny people. And while I'm going to give you a wee new tidbit and admit to you right now that Holly's sister is not a dancer of any type, she's also neither a boutique owner, an accountant, nor an artist of any kind. Or maybe it's more simple than that: Holly's sister is just not "a Nyla."
But maybe I'll get to use the name in my next novel. And I'll give it to my heroine and give her travels and adventures to match!
First things first, though, eh? :)