Recently I’ve been pulling my hair out trying to find the right names for the two male protagonists in the next project I plan to begin. Should be easy, right? But as most writers of fiction know, choosing a name is a bigger deal than you’d think. Names carry meaning (as any expectant parent knows searching those baby name books for the perfect label for their little tyke). Creating a very alpha masculine hero? Probably don’t want the translation of the name you’ve chosen to mean “dove” or “gentle rain” in its original language. You’d look for names beginning in hard, strong consonant sounds. K or T for example. Shorter names also seem to carry a power punch, although using really short names is not a hard and fast rule.
Then there’s the problem of avoiding main characters in the same story with names beginning with the same letter. Readers get confused apparently. I wanted to use Jamie or Jaipur or Jaiffe, for instance, for one of the protagonists, but I already have a strong male character with the name Jace who is part of the prequel to this story and appears fairly prominently in this next book. (I reallylike Jaiffe. It was perfect for him. Sigh.) So, strike the J. I also had to rule out K and R for similar reasons. As well as a few names that rhymed too well with other existing character names, although they began with a different letter.
In a previous story I wrote I decided, after completing three quarters of the thing, that one of my beloved secondary characters needed a name change because there were too many “S” names floating around. When I tried changing his moniker my critique group had a fit. The name was perfect, they insisted. I couldn’t/shouldn’t change it. People grow attached and obviously some rules are meant to be broken in the right moment.
But back to the problem of names in my current work in progress. Add on top of the previously mentioned issues the fact that the story takes place on another planet (although Jace comes from Earth) and I’m now looking for names that can sound believably as if they’re from an alien culture, but still sound masculine and attractive to Earth bound readers. I loved the name Aaron for one of the guys. It fit my image of him perfectly. Too old testament earth culture. I played around with the spelling to something like Aarryn, but finally gave up thinking the whole thing was ending up sounding less attractive to me.
Additionally, if you want the names to reflect some sort of specific meaning unique to your story, you’ve thrown yet another ball into the air. Jace Argo, for instance, was a name one character gave himself, purposely deciding to alter his birth name to a play on the myth of Jason and the Argonauts.
Most importantly when choosing, the name has to organically fit your character. It has to settle onto the writer’s image of the man or woman and fit him like a second skin. It feels horrid to be writing a story with a name that doesn’t fit. Icky almost. I’m willing to go a couple chapters into a manuscript with the wrong name, but if I go much further I feel ill at ease.
For now, the two placeholder names I’ve chosen are Baz and Mikah. I’m not completely sure about these, but somewhere along the way the final decision will be made.
Final, that is, until an editor provides her feedback (grant the publishing gods the manuscripts go on contract). I live in dread of an editor telling me that I must change a name after existing for months with these precious characters and allowing their names to help imbue the very essence of who they are.
But I get ahead of myself. Fine, it’s Baz and Mikah for now. So what have been your character naming struggles if you are an author? Or, if a reader, have you ever picked up a story where the names of the hero or heroine just didn’t work for you? Or conversely were picture perfect and enriched the story as you went along? Let me know.