INSIDE THE ART, CRAFT AND BUSINESS OF WRITING for Film, TV, Books, Stage, Print or Digital Media (with Particular Attention to Comedy)
Don’t underestimate the power of a good character name. The name is usually the first thing the reader knows about the character. It is our first impression.
I can tell you as a ‘reader’ and story analyst for movie studios, production companies and literary agencies, one thing that makes a script or book stand out – or not – is the character names. The names are a cue to readers about how inventive the rest of the writing will be. And that goes for non-fiction and memoir too.
On a practical level, it’s hard for a reader to keep track of a bunch of characters with similar sounding names like Joe, John, Jane and Joan. Which one was Joe again? And was he married to Jane or Joan? The reader (hopefully) keeps reading and hopes the characters will differentiate themselves through action, but why not make it easy for us to tell the players without a score card?
A character’s name helps define the character, and the array of names in a project can do a lot to define the overall tone.
8 Tips for Naming Your Characters
1. Use a phone book
2. Read the sports section of the paper
3. Keep a list of interesting names as you find them
4. Use a variety of first and last names
5. Include ethnic variety
6. Use a map or atlas
7. Vary the number of syllables in different characters’ names
8. Brainstorm qualities the character exhibits and turn one of them into a name
ADVISORY: Naming your characters can help develop your project, or become a huge time-waster. Don’t wait to find the perfect name for every character. Proceed anyway. Sometimes the characters aren’t that well defined at first so it’s not clear what kind of name would be best for them, like some people don’t name their baby until after it’s born.