I imagine you all have struggled with naming your characters—first name, last name, both, middle, alien nickname, etc. For the majority of my characters, first names came along with my original inspiration. A few characters have “placeholder” names until inspiration hits. For example, there’s a young male pickpocket I’ve been calling Dicken because he makes me think of a character out of a Charles Dickens novel. It’s not very useful for a French boy’s name so it’ll be changed eventually.
Last names were the hard part. So far I’ve only tackled last names of the hero, heroine and villain. I wanted them to be meaningful, I didn’t want to intentionally steal from real people, and they had to be francophone or at least make sense as a francophone name. I have some draft names for them but they’re still a work in progress and I imagine when it comes time, publishers will probably have a say in it.
Going to a baby naming website for help and inspiration is not a new idea, but I wanted to point you all toward a page devoted to helping writers on one particular baby naming site. Babynames.com has a “Tips for Writers” page warning you against clichés, age appropriateness, etc. I also find that it’s one of the more useful baby naming sites. Writer’s Digest has naming recommendations including era appropriateness, alliterative initials and variation across your characters. And of course, there are a million other sites and resources to which you might refer.
Wherever you find beneficial advice, here are a few tips that I used…
- Understand the naming conventions of the region you are working in. For my work, French names have some standard endings, not a one of which is -th.
- For my hero, who is intimately familiar with death, I looked up gods and heroes of the underworld. One in particular had potential to be combined with a francophone ending.
- Adding a personal twist, I used a variation of a family surname for my heroine.
- In this book set during the 1789 French Revolution, nobility is an important factor and identifier. I was concerned that any names with de, de la, du or variations would indicate nobility. Turns out that’s not exclusively the case; calling someone de Paris simply indicates that person is from Paris. That said, during the time period, many did remove the particle (de, etc.) from their name to avoid affiliation with the doomed nobility.