Monday, August 18, 2008

The Naming Game in Books

When you’re writing a book, there are names to consider. And not just character names, which is often the most time-consuming for an author and the ones we think about when we talk about names in a book.

There are names of towns (if you’re not setting it in a real city), streets, buildings, lakes, mountains, all those things related to your fictional setting.

There are sometimes names of animals or creatures, especially if you’re writing sci-fi/fantasy. For that matter, you might have to name whole planets and countries.

Sometimes you have to give a name to a religion, if there’s a fictional cult or church in your story.

And let’s don’t leave character names with just a passing nod. Those, for a lot of us, me included, can be the most contrary. The main characters always seem to be the most important. We search through baby naming books and telephone books. We scan through the credits on movies, looking for that “perfect” name for each individual character, good or bad. Then there are multiple secondary or minor characters – not only do they also have to be perfect, they have to be distinct enough from each other that readers don’t get them mixed up.

Trying to find that perfect character name can bring writing to a complete halt. That’s very annoying if you’re the kind of writer who can’t continue without having a name to call that character. When you’re stuck, try FAPping for names.

Names are important to a story. Spend some time on them. But don’t let them disrupt your whole writing time. As much as it hurts, it is permissible to label them “X” and move on while the urge and time to write are strong. Don’t let it bring everything to a standstill.


  1. That's my strategy as well. Pick something that works for the moment and keep writing, then go back and change it when you find exactly the right name. (I get my best ideas when I'm exercising.)

    And keep in mind that no matter what you name your antagonist, there's someone out there with that name. I got an e-mail from Ruth Greiner, and she was not happy to be associated with a psychopathic bomber. But I charmed her and offered a free copy of my next novel (which has no Greiners).

  2. I think exercising is a great way to clear your mind and let it stew ideas.

    That's funny about your antagonist's name. It might be sort of fun to have the same name as a bad guy, although, on second thought, maybe not!

  3. I also just get on with the writing. Sometimes the first name choices are fine, sometimes I get this epiphany of the "perfect" name that oozes with meaning and imagery that compliment the story.

    Nice post. I like your topics.

  4. OOooh, I'm one of those writers who has a really hard time leaving the X and moving on...but I think it's excellent advice.

  5. I have a hard time with calling a character X, too. If I do, I tend to use it only until I've finished writing for the day, then I start seriously trying to come up with a real name.

  6. Marvin,
    Next time I need a character name, I'm gonna call on you!


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