Character Names

by Uchiha Sasuke

Question: I'm really picky about character names, because there are not that many names that I really like. Anyway, I was wondering, is it OK if your character names are simply names that you like, or do they have to represent/mean something?

Answer: Everyone has a different approach on this issue.

Sometimes, when it doesn't matter to you, you can simply pick a name from a random name generator or a phone book. Names don't have to mean something.

On the other hand, many writers prefer to choose names that symbolize something about the character. They may look up the traditional meaning of various names until they find one that captures the character's essence. Or they may choose a name that, to them, sounds like the character. Sometimes too, you may want a name that reflects the character's culture or ancestry (e.g. family names passed down, traditional names for a given country of origin).

Choosing names that appeal to you imposes another type of filter which is equally valid. If all the names are consistent with your feeling about the story and the story world, that can help create a particular atmosphere.

Another issue that may or may not matter is the character's age. Many names will become popular for a while, and then fade from popularity, perhaps to become popular again for another generation. As a result, a typical group of 12-year-old girls in the U.S. today, would likely contain a Madison, an Emily, and a Hannah (and perhaps more than one). On the other hand, a group of 70-year old women would be more likely to include a Mary, a Barbara, and a Linda.

Some baby name websites will tell you the most popular names for a given year, along with their traditional meanings and cultures of origin.

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