Monday, August 18, 2014

Character Names - Vanilla or Something More Exotic

Naming a character can be difficult. It has to fit the time period if the story has a historical setting. It has to fit the world if the story takes place in the distant future or on a planet other than Earth. It has to fit the character. You don't want a strong alpha male named Leslie or Terry. Just as you don't want a geeky character named Lance unless there's a specific reason for it. In my opinion the most important thing about a character name is that it has to be pronounceable.

More than once I've picked up a book only to set it down and either give it away unread or take it back to the library because one of the main characters has a name that I have no idea how to pronounce. One name I came across looked like a bunch of consonants were jumbled together with a vowel mixed in. 

I don't mind unusual names if the writer finds a way to let me know how to pronounce it. One book I enjoyed had a strong secondary character named Naomi. I was reading it as Ni-O-Me which is how a childhood friend with this name pronounced it. The writer let the reader know the correct way to say the name by having the Naomi character correct another character's pronunciation of her name as Nay-O-My. Okay, now I knew how to say her name. Although I have to admit I still read it as Ni-O-Me. 

How do you feel about unusual character names?


  1. I agree. The name should fit the time period or setting. Once upon a time, I wrote a sci-fi romance and I named the heroine Almina. Her name means silver light on her home planet. That name might fight a contemporary heroine but I doubt it would work for a historical one. And yes, pronunciation is helpful. I like your example of how to say a character's name. The author who did that was genius, and it makes me wonder how many others do that to help their readers?

  2. Hi Miriam,
    I like the name Almina. It would fit contemporary, but you're right would seem strange in a historical setting. The author who had the character tell how to pronounce her name is the only one I've come across who has done that. I have seen books where there's a pronunciation key for names in the back at the end of the story.