A little while ago, one of my beta readers finished reading my book all the way through. When I asked them some specific questions, hoping for some feedback about the book, I was told I had too many names beginning with either H or C.
The reality was (particularly in the case of H) I had plenty of variety in my characters' names as a whole but in "The Criminal" it happened to be the case that almost all of my characters whose names began with one of those letters showed up in that book.
The hardest thing about receiving that feedback (and doing something about it) was finding names for the characters which still had the same feel to them but which did not start with the same letter. No matter what, I did not want to replace the character's name with something that was entirely different.
How do I go about finding names like that? How do I go about finding names in general? What method do I use to choose names? What about last names?
How do you know when a name suits your character???
It can all be incredibly difficult but I have some go-to methods I like to use and I am going to share them with you today.
My overall evil character, bad guy of all bad guys, my terrible horrible villain is called "bad."
Not exactly "bad" of course. His real name is Pravus but the word pravus (pronounced pra-wus for those of you who did not take Latin in high school) means "bad." So my bad guy's name is quite literally "bad."
I have a number of wolves in my books who have names that translate to "wolf" or "dog." I have a ton of characters whose last names are significant because they translate to something meaningful. If I am ever stuck on a name (and not just for characters but for places and things as well) I immediately go to Google translate and play around.
This being said, I generally stick with four languages (aside from Latin) when I go to play with Google translate. These are German, Dutch, French, and Italian. In case you were wondering why these languages, these are the languages of the people who originally published the stories I am retelling.
A little history lesson for you: Many of us know of the Brothers Grimm who were German writers who collected and retold classic stories like "Cinderella," "Rumplestiltskin," "Sleeping Beauty," and "Little Red Riding Hood." It was others who originally wrote the stories, however. Giambattista Basile who wrote the narrative Perceforest in which the first version of "Sleeping Beauty" is found was an Italian writer. Charles Perault wrote stories like the first Western version of "Cinderella" (the oldest known version was written in Greek by a man named Strabo) and was French. Hans Christian Anderson was Danish and wrote stories like "The Little Mermaid" and "The Princess and the Pea."
While I don't have many Danish or Greek names, it is German, Italian and French origins that inspired me to start with those cultures as a basis for my kingdoms and the closeness of Dutch to German that led me to include that as a fourth language and culture.
Not only do I use these languages to hide secret meanings in my characters' names but I often return for them when I need a last name for my character or want a quick name for a side character. Having cultures to base your world on helps you to quickly seek out names like that or even build a list of names you like. All you have to do is search "Dutch doy names" or "Italian girl names." If you don't have a preferred country, maybe you have a preferred time and could search "popular names of the 18th century." A similar method can be used for last names. Be sure to say names out loud to ensure that last names fit with the first names before you become set on the name.
Finally, I enjoy looking for names around me and playing with them if need be. Don't confine yourself to looking up names you have never heard of before. allow yourself to e excited by the names that you see around you. Who is serving you coffee at your Starbucks? Who is ringing up your groceries? Did the annoying phone scammer you just hung up on introduce themselves?
Write the names down. Write names of flowers and plants down. Write names of streets down. Write anything that makes your imagination fly in all directions down on a sheet of paper and then play with it. Take letters out, put letters in. Scramble the letters or leave them be. Write down names you spot while searching for something else and if they have a meaning, write that down too. Just because it won't work for the current character doesn't mean it won't work for another. Write it all down and store it somewhere safe to return to whenever you need a name for another character.
These are my tips and tricks and tools. And this is what it looks like when you have that list built up: