Let’s Talk Character Names – “I like Mike.”

ilikemikeI’ll admit it right off the bat. I’m one of those readers who gets confused with complicated character names. If an author presents too many people, too soon, with foreign sounding or “made-up” names or where both the first and last name have three or more syllables each, I get lost. I’m one of those readers who keeps turning the pages back and forth to figure out “who is whom” in a book. This is one of the reasons I still like paper books over electronic. It allows me quickly to flip pages and chapters back and forth, so that I can keep up.

I think as authors we try to be too cute, or ingenious, and forget there are people who need to follow what we’re writing. Maybe I’m too cautious, though. In my novels, I like easy names. In my books, I’ve used Mike, John, Steve and Josh. Sometimes I get a little “crazy” and use Patricia, Kira or Kelsey. But they’re still not too complicated. Some people have skeptically asked me how I choose my names and frankly, it’s not a very in-depth process for me. I think of a name and use it. Pretty simple.

The problem with simple is that sometimes I’ll give folks similar names and my editor, Denise Vitola, calls me on it. I have a Desmond and Dave in my recent WIP and she said, “You need to change their names.” I couldn’t understand why. She said “When a reader is dealing with a number of characters, names that begin with the same letter, or that sound similar, tend to be confusing. Keep them separated in the reader’s mind by giving them unique names.” Problem is, to me they sounded unique and different, but I bowed to her. Dave became Logan… (though poor Logan was in the chapters that were all the back story flashbacks in the book and got relegated to the cutting room floor in the edits)

I read a great article by Brian Klems from Writer’s Digest on The 7 Rules for Picking Character names for Fictional Characters. Of course, I found this after I wrote my books, but I’m going to save it and go back to it because I think it’s really helpful. Here’s the link if you’re interested. http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/the-7-rules-of-picking-names-for-fictional-characters

Time to reread the novel and get rid of some of those easy names… I always wanted to use the name Harry. Too easy? Nah….


20 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Character Names – “I like Mike.”

  1. I would imagine that naming a character would hinge somewhat on “who” that character happens to be. Can’t imagine a pirate named “Steve” but perhaps “Stephan” could work…unless Pirate Steve was intentionally named such for comedic effect. And while I think about it, Pirate Stephan, is perhaps a bit of a dandy. Also, in regards to Mike vs. Michael…”Mike” sounds like a fellow one would meet at the pub, “Michael” is more likely to be someone I’d meet wearing a collar in church.

    • I would say it depends on who they are, but also on where they are from. When creating characters I tend to see them not as un- or disconnected people, but as part of something larger than themselves. Everyone has an origin, whether that is people or place(s). Another element is that of what they are, which does not have to be the same as what they do.

      So most of the time I try to imagine these things, connect tidbits and references, and then I go looking for patterns of identification that fit. Names tend to come naturally after that.

  2. I actually enjoy naming my characters. I usually have a good idea of what the character is as far as nationality, religious beliefs, personality, quirks, problems, looks, etc. Then I go searching on the internet for names that fit the character. My readers might be surprised to learn that some of my character’s names have deep hidden meanings or insights into the character’s profile.

  3. Most towns have an historical society and publc libraries generally carry yearbooks. They are great sources for names. Thanks for the article link. It was very informative.

  4. Nice post! I like paper books better myself and also try to use different letters for character names with choosing. Sometimes it is hard though because there are only 26 letters in the alphabet. lol

  5. Great post, Elyse! Really enjoyed it and I look forward to reading the others as well. Good info. Thanks for taking the time to do it. And for the link to Denise 😉

  6. I get confused by names that start with the same letter, or that have a similar feel to me. Movies are even worse for me. Half the actors look the same to me, and I can’t tell who is whom.

    Made-up names are difficult for me, yet names need to fit characters. In my WIP, the main characters are Anastasia Sophia (I was a little cranky about the use of Anastasia in the 50 Shades books, but her name meaning is integral to the story) , Talitha, and Tomas.

  7. I agree about character names sounding the same. I recently read a manuscript, and kept getting the characters confused. It wasn’t until I stopped and really thought about it did I realize that three characters’ names started with the same letter, and two of those names sounded the same.

  8. If I stumble over names when reading a piece aloud, I know I need to make changes., And I loathe fantasy names such as G’Thkplkrgkstr’Ky’grkthp. If I can’t pronounce it, I assign an unflattering nickname to the character (if I keep reading at all). I do love names that are evocative — Archie Goodwin, for instance, the ‘good man’ who ‘wins.’

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