So I’ve been feeling a bit better about writing in the past few days. I think making a post about creative drought did me a favour, I got all those nagging feelings vented out and admitted what needed to change. Since then, I’ve been more relaxed, and I can feel sprinkles of inspiration coming back. It’s only been half a week though, so I probably don’t have enough progress to write a whole post on it, but, I did think of something else writing-related that I do have something to say about.
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that coming up with names for characters can be a frustrating and dread-worthy task. It’s something I try to put off for as long as I can. However, recently when I was explaining the plot of my current story to someone, I could see how confusing it was to tell between ‘the girl’, ‘that girl’ and the ‘girl from earlier’. The plot got lost in the miscommunication, the person looked mildly annoyed at me, and I felt like I had wasted 5 minutes of someone’s time for something incomprehensible. The conversation ended abruptly and awkwardly, becoming one of those painfully cringey memories that your brain reminds you of when you least want it to.
It was clear that there was only so long I could go with calling my characters ‘Girl’ or ‘Boy’, or some variation of that. Naming is an inevitable job after all, so I sat down and tried to make it happen.
At first, I just waited for a name to materialise in my head. I thought of a few scenes, tried to picture characters talking to each other and using each others names, thinking that one might just slip into the dialogue by accident. It didn’t, though. So I had to think of something else.
I wasn’t really sure what method to use next. I don’t know how other writers choose names, I just kind of assumed that it happened instinctively and that I wasn’t being creative enough.
After an hour of procrastinating and a lot of huffing and puffing, I looked at my notes and felt an idea coming.
In all of the character and plot notes I had done, I had taken to calling my main character ‘OG’, which stood for Obnoxious Girl (not a very nice name, I know). I had only used OG as an abbreviation to save my hand from having to write the full words out over and over again, since at the time I was still working in a notebook. I realised though, that this abbreviation was the solution to my naming struggles.
I chose to make ‘OG’ the character’s initials. This took so much pressure off me since now I wasn’t searching for a needle-in-a-haystack name out of literally endless combinations. Trying to pull one out of thin air felt like being lost in an ocean of possibilities, narrowing it down to two letter options was so relieving. I thought about girl’s names beginning with ‘O’, and came decided on Olivia. I then thought about surnames beginning with ‘G’, which was slightly harder, but after a bit of pondering I picked Griffin for her surname. Just like that, I had named my first character, and I was actually really happy with the choices!
I repeated this process with the other characters. One of them was a Homely Boy, so his initials were HB, another one was a Wise Lady, so hers were WL. Within the day I had named every character in my story using this method. I was pleased with the results and felt like all the names I found actually fitted the characters despite being restricted to the two letters from each set of initials.
I had wanted to do another name or two for an example as part of this post. All of the characters in my current story have already been done though, so I’m jumping over to my second one. Absolutely nothing has been named yet in my second story. None of the characters have, the setting hasn’t, and the idea itself is nowhere close to having a title. In fact, I’ve been referring to it in my head as ‘the one with the big horse’!
Still, it has been completely planned out, and it’s an idea that I’m really fond of, so I think it’s about time that the main character gets a better name than ‘girl’.
So to start, if I come up with two words that describe this character, immediately I think of her as a valiant person. She also has a strong bond with horses, so I’d also call her an equestrian.
Valiant Equestrian then, V.E.
I’ve landed myself a slightly unusual letter with V, and it’s quite hard to think of V names off the top of my head. I looked it up on google and found a list. None of them really felt right, but something about the name Valerie seemed close. I think this character’s family would have chosen an unusual name spelling, since they are unusual people, so I adapted the name Valerie into Vallory. I’m not sure if that is a real name, but it feels right for this character, so I’ll take it.
For her last name, I’ve got the letter E. I think that’s a good letter, with plenty of options. I thought of a few, but when the surname Eden came to mind, I knew straight away I would go for that one. After all, there’s a nature connection there between the Garden of Eden, and this character who loves nature and animals etc. After just a few minutes, I now know that my protagonist is Vallory Eden, and I can stop calling her ‘girl’, which is nice!
So far, this method has worked really well for me, it’s taken away some unnecessary stress, and made an annoying job easier. It’s also more flexible than it might seem. After all, if I don’t like any of the names under a certain letter, I can choose another word to describe the character, and start again with a fresh set of initials till something works. As of yet though, I haven’t needed to do that, and I’ve been happy with the results on the first try each time.
When I do this, there’s always a tiny little shred of embarrassment, like the names I choose must be weird, or maybe my method is really silly. I think I have self doubt because of my age and inexperience, but I’ll just have to stick to my guns until that goes away someday.
Unfortunately, I have not come up with a quick and easy method for book titles! Like I said earlier, I call idea no.2 ‘big horse one’ and my current idea doesn’t even have a codename at all. I might be happy to name characters, but I think it’ll be a long time till I put myself through the test of tackling titles!
10 thoughts on “The Necessary Nuisance of Naming”
Hi I agree it is hard finding the right name – I really like your process, in fact I might try it myself Thanks 🙂
I’m glad you like it, thanks for reading! : )
I indentified with this post so much! It’s so so hard to pick names for characters. I really love your method. I might try it. It seems like a fun way to approach it. If you’re really stuck you can get name generator apps on your phone. Sometimes they give you ideas…
My methods are A. If I’m lucky a character pops into my head pre-named. B. I look at the end credits of whatever TV show I am watching and select a forename and surname from two different people on the list, names that are unusual and appeal to me. C. I have a list called ‘Orphan Names’ which are names I have seen and like, but are not assigned to a character yet. I also have a list called ‘Orphan Titles’ for book titles which don’t have an idea associated with them yet. I also have a load of ideas without titles, but sadly none of these seem to match up! Choosing the title of the book seems even harder than selecting the names for the characters…
Ahh having spare titles and names sounds useful, I agree titles are much harder than names
I love how, once born,
the idea is almost unstoppable
– from drought to flood!
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When you name them, they will become more real to you. One little tip: please have every name start with a different letter. I hate having to stop reading a novel to sort out who is Sally and who is Susan 🙂
Yes very true, the name is a big part of their identity! : )
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