06 April 2015

Eras, Ethnicity, & Etymology

**My theme for this year's A to Z Challenge is THE NAME GAME. Everything you'd want to know about naming characters.**
Today's post is all about being accurate. When choosing names for your characters, it may not always be as easy as pulling a random name out of thin air. Sometimes you may have to do a little research to make sure your character's name fits in with the story you're writing, or even who he/she is as a person. Where or when a story takes place can have a huge impact on what your characters' names should be. And if these names aren't chosen correctly, then they may just seem silly.

First, lets talk about when and where your story takes place. If it's in modern day anywhere USA, for example, it may not really matter what you name your characters. Parents are often likely to choose names for their children just because they like them, and it may have nothing to do with culture or time period. But if you're writing historical fiction, maybe something that takes place hundreds of years ago, your options for names may not be as vast. You always want to make sure the name you're using would actually be used during that time period. Look up what names were popular during that time. And if your book takes place in a different country, see what names are popular there. It's always important that the name feels natural for whatever story you're writing. 

A character's ethnicity could also be a factor when deciding on a name. You wouldn't want to give a Chinese character a Japanese name, for instance. Depending on your story, this could only be important when figuring out the last name, but first names come from different places around the world as well. Think about who the character's parents are and whether or not culture would play a role when they are naming their child. A first name could be Spanish or Italian or Greek. You probably want the name to fit with who the character is. If you're thinking about a particular name, research where it came from and decide if it fits with how you see your character. 

What factors have you used when deciding on a character's name? Ever written a story that made you really think about what to name your characters? 


  1. Yup, when you're naming a character, you want the name to be accurate to your story and your character's background. I've read some books where the name doesn't make much sense.

  2. That's why I like science fiction - I can make it all up.
    However, I did keep a similar thread in the names of one race in my second and third books. (Ironically, I don't think anyone even noticed that all of the Tgren names began with a vowel.) I also looked up British names for my upcoming book so it would have that feel to the story. (Those names were morphed into science fiction names of course.)

  3. I'm like Alex. I find it tricky to name characters and it doesn't always come naturally, so I enjoyed making up completely new names in my dystopian. But even then, they still have to fit with the characters' attributes somehow.

  4. I have a few ethnic characters that I had to hunt down names from their country of birth. Another character I looked up Scandinavian names because I wanted the name to be a clue to their ethnicity.

    ~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Member of C. Lee's Muffin Commando Squad
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

  5. You are on my list to check if you are being part of the A to Z Challenge.

    THANK YOU for being up to the letter "E"...
    Jeremy [Retro]
    AtoZ Challenge Co-Host [2015]

    There's no earthly way of knowing.
    Which direction we are going!

    Come Visit: You know you want to know if me or Hollywood... is Nuts?

  6. Sometimes I write down names that I hear or read; I have pages in my journal devoted to possible names for characters. I've taught at various schools in Chicago, and many of my students have unique, interesting names that I like to write down, just in case.
    You're right about the historical context; for example, it probably wouldn't be realistic to give someone living in the 21st century a name like Jedediah (though I think some people do have that name now), though I suppose you could shorten the name to Jed.

  7. Names are very important to me. I know as a reader if I am going to spend a lot of time with a character I want to enjoy the name. Same goes with writing.

  8. lol at the Holy Grail.
    For historical settings, I check the census records for surnames. First names I rely on top 100 listings for years or decades. I have more difficulty with contemporary names for children.

  9. I never have trouble naming the main character. It's the supporting cast that gives me headaches.

    Scribbles From Jenn - Visiting from the A to Z Challenge

  10. I'm having trouble finding my hero a name right now. I'll have to consider the ethnicity angle. It's set in the US, but there are names that suit areas better than others. Thanks for the tip!

  11. Love your theme! I've been on and off with a WIP for a few years, and I feel like I still can't name two of my main male characters. Hopefully you can help. :)

  12. Anne McCaffery, in her Pern novels, had the people actually deciding not to stick to earth names but to invent names for Pern.

  13. These have been excellent posts, Sarah.
    I prefer to use lots of Irish names in my books.
    Nod to my roots.

  14. Hey! You are nominated for the Liebster Award, a bloggers award!
    Do check this out: http://www.fabulus1710.blogspot.in/2015/04/my-first-blogger-award.html
    Mithila @fabulus1710

  15. I had a debate along these lines once. Someone was making a big fuss about all the "made up names" that weren't "real enough" to her because they were new. I pointed out that her own name was less than 100 years old. The discussion got... Biblical. LOL.

    Excellent post.
    -J @JLenniDorner