Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Why is it Necessary to Name all the Characters in our Books?

 When I started writing, I disliked naming all the characters in my books. Giving a name to the main character and the secondary characters was tough enough so I often took the easy way out by not naming the other characters. I didn’t want to tax my brain by coming up with unusual story ideas as well as unique names for the characters.

The other characters would be left without an identity: the watchman, the principal, the teacher, the neighbour and the watchman’s cat would be anonymous creatures just making a few appearances and then doing the disappearing act.

As I waded deeper into my writing career, I realized that it is extremely important to name the other characters as giving a name creates a mental picture in our mind about the character. With the picture comes the character’s looks and style of dressing in mind. It also helps us in creating more rounded characters. Nameless characters are akin to cardboard cut-outs which lack personality and appeal.

I find it easy to visualize a character after I have bestowed a name on it. For every story/book I write nowadays, I spend a little name giving names which I feel will suit my characters.  Once a name drops into my mind, it brings with it a tiny mental picture of the character with it. With the mental picture in place, I weave a bit of back-story and give it a personality, looks and mannerisms.

I do try to go for unusual names, but not very exotic or tongue-twisting ones which can give the readers a verbal paralysis. Indian names by and large are not easy on the tongue. One of my CP’s who is an Indian, went nuts trying to pronounce the difficult names of my characters. Her critique was, “ I loved the first ten pages, but, honey, please go easy on the names. I had an extremely difficult time pronouncing the names.”

How are you in naming the characters? Do you spend time thinking of the names, or do you just pick a name randomly. Is it important for you to go for exotic names or you prefer simple, easy to pronounce names? Is a name synonymous with the character’s personality for you? Please share your views on naming characters.
   
            

21 comments:

Lynda R Young said...

I spend hours naming my characters. If I can't come up with one then I'll often throw in a silly place name so I can continue writing, otherwise everything stops, lol.

Rahul Bhatia said...

So true, Rachna! A character is a living being and to relate to it, a true identity needs to be created!

Madeleine Maddocks said...

I definitely think what you name your characters affects how you protray them. It is only natural that those names with which you've had experience will conjure up certain personality traits. Some writers go through telephone books for names or have a notebook especially for names. Of course JKRowling made up her names and they were very effective. Great post.That's one of many things I dislike about Road by Cormac McCarthy is that neither MC's have names.

Julia Hones said...

Interesting post, Rachna. Sometimes the names for my characters come easily. Other times, it is impossible to come up with a name. I think names can help to portray our characters vividly. I agree with you.

Elizabeth Varadan aka Mrs. Seraphina said...

Great question! I spend a lot of time thinking up names. Sometimes the name gives me the feel of the character (once I've made a place for the character in the story in a sort of generic way); other times I really have to develop the character a little to see what fits. In my book The Fourth Wish, I started out naming the character Jessica, which was a name popular at the time in her age group. But she didn't want to be Jessica. When I found the name Melanie, I knew I had the right name, because everything about her character flowed as soon as I started calling her that. The writing process really is weird, isn't it! :-)

SBJones said...

Nameless characters can have a big impact if you allow them to. Like a murder mystery where the bad guy is closing in on the main character and the neighbor down the hall in the apartment building shows up dead and the character is upset. Even though they said hello and talked to each other dozens of times, the main character never payed enough attention to remember their name.

I try my best to make sure each person in my stories name starts with a different letter. People tend to skip over names if they can't pronounce them but will visually recognize them. I have broken this rule a few times for specific reasons, but even names that are not hard to pronounce, if they all look the same become confusing. Try keeping everyone strait if they are named, Angela, Amaya, Alyssa, Alexandra, Alinda, Aribella, and your novel is 250,000 words. What one had blond hair again? Who didn't like ice cream?

L.C. said...

Hmm...I usually do the opposite. I imagine the character first. Like you said, names carry a little image of their own, so that's how I match them up. For me exotic vs. simple depends on the character's role and the setting. As a reader I might be a little weirded out by an evil sorcerer named Bob. lol. Nice post! Thanks!

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Friends.. thanks for dropping by. From your comments I can see that everyone spends a lot of time on getting the character names right. I try to bring a little bit of variation in the names I choose for my characters. I try to avoid similar sounding names like Tina, Nina, Mina, Rina and Dina all in one book or story as it may confuse the readers.

Misha Gericke said...

I name main characters, supporting characters and otherwise important characters. The expendable ones go un-named, since the naming only creates the expectation that the character will be back. And I already have enough to keep track of without having to remember where I left every insignificant character I ever created.

It would be like naming every extra in an epic movie.

:-)

Mark Noce said...

I think it depends on the story. In a short-story I think the fewer names the better, but in a larger novel maybe it's useful. I find, however, that I often recall characters from a book more in regards to an occupation or a physical detail rather than a name.

Kristen Wixted said...

I love naming characters. They usually pop into my head right away. I think it's like a super power (I hope writing about it doesn't make it go away.) ;)

Lydia Kang said...

I just stick my hand into the black fuzz inside my imagination and pull out whatever is there. Sometimes I take that name and change a few letters and voila!

Victoria Dixon said...

Sometimes everything can STILL stop if I have an inappropriate name because the name touches on how I approach the character. Fortunately, I can usually find something that at least "sounds" right. I took that route with the last book, otherwise I never would have got past the first few chapters. I've got a cast of ten major characters at least and several minor ones and I think only two of those people haven't had a name change. One is a minor character (whose name happens to be historically accurate and completely unimportant) and one is a major, but completely fictional character so I could call him whatever I wanted. ;D

Robyn Campbell said...

Usually the names come easy for me, but I have had to go to the phone book, the internet, even family members. I think that the names mean a lot. They have to suit the characters. And no rhyming names like Sarah and Kara. :-)

How have you been Rachna? *waving*

The Golden Eagle said...

I usually spend a lot of time thinking about names--sometimes I think too much, but if a name doesn't fit it can throw my writing off. I used to pay a lot of attention of the meaning of a name when I chose one for my characters to see if it fit that character's personality, but I don't as much anymore.

Great post!

alexia said...

I love picking names! I usually go to internet name websites and search on name meanings, or attributes the character possesses. It's really fun.

gargimehra said...

Rachna, I love the pic that you’ve chosen to accompany this post! I too have an obsession to name my characters right. Often it comes to me straight away but at other times I’m tearing my hair to get it right.

Dave King said...

My problem is in reading. I have never had a good memory for names and it's nowhere near as good as it was. A lot of characters all with names that must be remembered is now a real difficulty for me.

cherie said...

I do spend a lot of time thinking about my character's names. I go for the easy ones--nothing too hard to pronounce or spell. Like you, names give me an inkling of what a character's personaity is like, etc.

Karen Lange said...

I give careful consideration to names of characters, particularly the main ones. I do get a mental picture right away and that helps me shape them and scenes that they are in.

Rochelle said...

A name for you is like a sketch for me - somehow, I have a much more complete vision of who the character is when I can draw them. That's when they become real for me.