Writing a story usually involves dreaming up a scenario or event that prompts a hero into action. Sometimes, it is a group of people who are put into a situation that forces them all to deal with their own personal demons or limitations making our stories that much more engaging and that much more enjoyable.
How much importance do we place on coming up with names for our characters? Do we pick the first name that pops into our mind or do we research every possible database for just the right name to use for each and every character in our story?
There are endless books available for anyone interested in the definitions or history of names as well as web sites like: www.behindthename.com, http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/name and www.babynames.com to name a few.
The advice given to writers when emphasis is to be placed on your character’s name can cover the need to have the most appropriate name to create the necessary impact for your story or even something as simple as naming a beloved pet so as to make it as endearing as possible to your audience. In the end, it is a decision for the individual writer to make.
As for me, I gave up on researching names beforehand the day I returned to writing from my brief (20+ year) sabbatical in hell. Trust me. Hell might look all cool and glamourous, but trust me, don’t stay if you can help it.
Looking at the stories I had to tell and following them on the adventures always leaves me with more than enough excitement. When the time comes to name a character, I either throw in the first name I think of or look up a list of names quickly and use the first one that catches my eye. Also, if you ever find a name you particularly like, but don’t have a use for it in your current story, just save it for another. Make a list of preferred names and when you next have a tale to tell, the prospect of naming your characters is already done
Regardless of how you find the names, use them and tell your story. Is your hero named Bill? How about Andy or Millie? If you want a name like Stephen or Conan, don’t stop to look up how many times the name has been used. Just go with it. You need to feel comfortable with your character’s name. Don’t like Jessie? Change it. If you specifically like a name, don’t let anyone else change your mind about it. Use the name that fits and get on with telling your story.
Remember, the hero isn’t made by what name is used. The hero is made by his story and how much the reader learns to love reading and (hopefully) re-reading your tale. Who would ever remember the name Sherlock Holmes if he hadn’t become such an iconic character? How about Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, Hannibal Lecter, Inigo Montoya, John Galt, or even…Bond, James Bond?
The only reason those names come up quickly in any search engine is because of the stories they were in. A hero impacts the world by facing dangers and saving lives no matter the cost. Harry is a common name, but when you say Harry Potter, the name is no longer random. It is now surrounded by his story. Frodo Baggins can bring about a discussion of adventures, orcs, battles and talking dragons.
For anti-heroes few compare with Hannibal Lecter. A villain in his actions, but a hero in his own mind which we get to know all too well.
If you mention Doctor Who, fans will immediately think of their favorite incarnation and can discuss their favorite adventures without pause. Non-fans might say they either have not watched the show, read the books or ever followed The Doctor. However, it is unlikely someone will consider “Do you like Doctor Who?” as a question about your physician.
Also, who can forget the introduction of Inigo Montoya? “Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
More often than not, as a writer begins a new story, it is best to concentrate on the story rather than the names. If you have the name already in mind, terrific! If not, you can always change it if you like or simply learn to love the name that came to you as the story took shape. Once your story is complete, there’s plenty of time to search for the historical significance of your choice.
In the end, tell a great story and the name will be remembered.