It’s a Trap! Things to avoid when naming your characters.
You’ve finished your novel, your characters are fully fleshed persona’s in their own right, and each has a unique voice and presence. That is awesome!
Less awesome is the fact that they’re called John, Jane, and James. A similarity in names guaranteed to disrupt the flow of the story as your reader goes back to double check who said what. Was James the one with the limp and the gift for magic, or was that John? Has Jane had a sex change since chapter 3 that the author decided wasn’t important enough to mention?
Alliteration can be a powerful tool in the writer’s arsenal, but when it comes to character names you want the clarity that comes from distinctive names. An easy check can be done by putting all your character names on a single document; nothing but the name. See if the names are visually similar, and if so, change them a bit.
- Try to avoid multiple names that start with the same letter;
- Read the names ALOUD to check if any of them sound similar;
- Avoid pronunciation that requires a double-jointed jaw or the tongue of an ant-eater.
What’s in a name?
Building an alternate reality Venice, you probably want Venetian, Florentine, and Italian names. If your scene is set on a gondola and all your characters carry Slavic names like Vladimir or Tatiana, anyone with knowledge of the culture is going to experience dissonance that may ruin their reading experience.
If you are writing a modern piece or one set in the future, you have a lot more freedom. You might want to look at your world plan. If China is the dominant power then a large portion of your characters should have Chinese influenced names. Is your piece set in modern-day Korea? Then most of your characters should have one of the big family names (see http://koreanslate.com/top-10-korean-family-names-in-south-korea.html & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_South_Korean_surnames_by_prevalence).
Is your amazing character name 14 syllables long or comprised of multiple titles? Use it sparingly and make sure you have a short-hand version for usage if the character is going to appear regularly. Writing from a first-person perspective allows you to reduce the character to “I” pretty regularly, so that point of view is far more forgiving of protagonists with complex names.
When hunting for good character names have a look at baby names by country of origin and meaning, or old historic documents from the era you’re interested in. In short DYR (Do Your Research) and avoid sinking a great story with poorly considered names.
An additional link for names http://www.writing-world.com/links/names.shtml