I intend to a few entries about character names, as there are many aspects to naming a character that I think a lot of writers have difficulty with. Today my post is about simplicity versus creativity.
Every writer wants their characters to be unique, to stand out and to be recognizable. A lot of the time, a creative name paired with an interesting past or personality can do the trick. But how creative is too creative when it comes to a name? You want the name to stand out, but you also want your readers to be able to pronounce the name. If your characters all have names that are difficult for even you to pronounce, it’s probably a good idea to change the names.
I’m reading a book series right now and the characters all have complicated names, along with places and objects. At the front of the book is a little guide on how to pronounce the names, what sounds the different letters make in the language created in the series and how best to say other words that are frequently used. I’ve read this series before, and I love it dearly. The one thing I can’t stand, however, is that I constantly have to flip to the front to check and make sure I am pronouncing a name correctly in my head. That is the one flaw with this series; having to turn back constantly takes away from the important elements of the story itself.
If your characters are all named with a language you created, please make sure that a guide on how to pronounce everything isn’t needed. While the created language and culture adds a whole new aspect to a story, it can become tiresome to have to constantly check the pronunciation guide every time a new character is introduced. This can cause readers to want to avoid reading any other books in the series for lack of wanting to go through so much trouble. Creative is wonderful, but be careful how far you take your creativity when it comes to naming you characters.
On the other hand, you don’t want to make your names too simple. While some characters are so fantastic that a simple, normal name like “Harry” or “Jim” is all they need, that is often a rare occurrence. Especially if one writes fantasy or sci-fi stories that take place in other realms or on other planets. A simple name can be great for either simple characters or fantastic characters who don’t need a ‘cool’ name to enhance them. But what about the other characters? That’s when your judgement has to come in to play; does this character have a name that is unique, to fit the world they live in, or do they have a name that is a play-off from popular, simple names and just looks cool and different (Example: Jennifer could become Genipher)? Sometimes just changing the way a character’s name is spelled can make all the difference. Even it is a simple name, different ways of spelling will help stick the name into your readers’ minds. It’s unique, therefore it is memorable.
Names are one of the most important aspects of your characters. It’s important to make sure that they are not too difficult for your readers to remember or pronounce, but that they are not so simple that they don’t stick in their minds. Once you find a balance, you will find that names come much easier to you.
Thanks for reading Part 1 of my “What’s in a Name?” series! I hope you will join me for others in the future.