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How Important are Character Names? : Conversation question • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

How Important are Character Names?

Every month in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a question related to the writing life. Tell us your thoughts.
Fictional Cowboy
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How Important are Character Names?

Postby Fictional Cowboy » Wed Mar 12, 2014 4:23 pm

Everyone has at least one thing that slows down their writing. For me, it's naming characters. I obsess over their names because they have to be perfect. I can't just pick a random name and have the matter settled.

How important are character names to you as a writer? To publishers? To readers? God forbid I should have ever had a child. Their Sweet Sixteen birthday present would have been to finally get a name!
~ Cowboy

If you're so inclined, feel free to correct my punctuation. I'm relearning.

DISCLAIMER: My posts are always my opinions, my thoughts and information based on my research. There are exceptions, and no one right way, to do everything.

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MookyMcD
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Re: How Important are Character Names?

Postby MookyMcD » Wed Mar 12, 2014 4:58 pm

I think they are important, but I don't worry about not knowing what they are. I use placeholder names for characters. I don't worry about finalizing them until I realize what I want their names to be. I'm still wrestling with the last name for my MC (his birth certificate will reveal the Greek name Eνενήντα Efta ____________, but everyone's always just called him Evan). I have my antagonist's last name (Mammon) but no first name for him. And the solutions are tied up in one another, because I need there to be a relationship between the names. I'm pretty lukewarm on the FMC's name (currently Summer), which means that will be the product of a search and replace party before too long, too.

That's something for me to keep in mind while I write, but it isn't a reason not to write.

TerryRodgers
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Re: How Important are Character Names?

Postby TerryRodgers » Thu Mar 13, 2014 2:15 pm

I believe they're only important to the geographically/race origin. A man from India named Buck might be a mistake. I always try to stick with names I can pronounce. I read a lot of international thrillers and sometimes I take longer sounding out a name than reading the page. I know it's tough to name characters from certain parts of the world, but I think some writers make the names too complicated.

Laycrew
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Re: How Important are Character Names?

Postby Laycrew » Thu Mar 13, 2014 4:40 pm

I've actually seen agents complain about names of YA characters in contemporary fiction. I get a little frustrated with that though because I worked in a elementary school office for several years and even names that are out of style still get used so it shouldn't be a deal breaker. But it is an issue in the mind of some agents.

There do tend to be name trends if you are writing contemporary fiction. You might look into the top names in the year your protagonist was born. When I was born my name was THE name at the time. I can't tell you how many Kimberlys I have encountered in school. It has not been the hot name for some time but I know two Kimberly teens. Everyone named their boys and girls Taylor around 20 years ago. It was freaking ridiculous. But I haven't met any youth or adults under 80 with the name Wilma or Wanda.

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cosivantutte
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Re: How Important are Character Names?

Postby cosivantutte » Thu Mar 13, 2014 8:51 pm

Believe it or not, I've run across someone named Cinderella in real life. I always thought there had to be an interesting reason why her parents would name her that. Unless she changed her name to Cinderella, which would be even weirder.
Last edited by cosivantutte on Thu Mar 13, 2014 9:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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cosivantutte
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Re: How Important are Character Names?

Postby cosivantutte » Thu Mar 13, 2014 8:54 pm


Laycrew
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Re: How Important are Character Names?

Postby Laycrew » Thu Mar 13, 2014 11:11 pm


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cosivantutte
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Re: How Important are Character Names?

Postby cosivantutte » Fri Mar 14, 2014 12:01 am


TerryRodgers
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Re: How Important are Character Names?

Postby TerryRodgers » Fri Mar 14, 2014 5:52 am


Em_Lawrence
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Re: How Important are Character Names?

Postby Em_Lawrence » Wed Mar 19, 2014 7:08 am

I'm with mooky. Wow, that's a weird sentence. Anyways, I use this website
http://www.20000-names.com
I write in a filler name in the meantime and determine to replace it when I'm done. Problem solved and you can keep writing. On the other hand, if you are one of those people that likes knowing all about your character before you can finish what you are rewriting, how about this: put your character in a car and set the car on fire. Then throw in a broken door lock, some hail...make a scene that is conflict ridden. My point is to do something to help you get a feel for the character. Maybe the name will come to you as you get more knowledgeable with your person.
I wrote some situational conflicts that I never intended to put in my novel, just to see what my characters would do. It was fun and helped me sort out their personalities and who they were.

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