Three Things to Keep in Mind When Naming Your Characters

When I first began writing novels, I didn't pay much attention to the names I gave my characters. I named my female MC Lily because that's my favorite name. I named her brother Alex because I liked it. I named their love interests Jackson (again, because I liked it) and Kadence (because Princess Cadence from MLP Friendship is Magic, duh) and I named the villain Damian because it sounded dark and brooding. None of their names have anything to do with their personalities, they don't have any special meanings or hidden messages, and I did not think about their names affecting the plot in any way, shape, or form.
And despite what a lot of other pieces of writing advice may tell you, I think that is 110% perfectly okay.
But, like many young writers, as I started working on my first full novel I started to worry a bit about my character names. In Unperfected, my main characters were Avalon and Tripp. And at first, I chose these names because--you guessed it! I liked them. I thought they sounded nice and fit the images of them I had in my head very well. 
But as I began to write the story, I read a lot of articles on the importance of naming your characters. I noticed a lot of popular YA authors had given their characters names that had specific meaning or gave hints to the plot. (For example, Rick Riordan is a master of using a character names with specific meanings in his Percy Jackson books)
So, I started trying to mess with my character names and forcefully add reasons for why they were named the way they were. I came up with some really stupid stuff, too. The name Avalon means "Apple Island" and also refers to the legendary Arthurian island of paradise. So what did I do? I wrote a scene in which Avalon's brother reveals that their mother named Avalon because she really loved apples. (Are you cringing just as hard as I am?)
Thankfully, that never made it into the book and I have since added a huge plot element that accidentally made Avalon's name make sense, which is kind of cool. Again, accidental. But cool.
But my point is that I was so worried about name meanings that I lost sight of why I had given my characters their specific names in the first place--they had meaning to me, the author.
Having since learned a lot about writing for yourself vs writing for others, here are three things I think you should keep in mind when naming characters!



1. Choose names you like, but fit the story.

When naming characters, it's clearly important to keep your story in mind--mainly the genre. If you're writing a historical novel and your MC's name is Zykara or Xania, you might have a little trouble making the character feel believable and like an actual historical MC. Try to choose names that you like, but work with your story and don't cross too many genres. Giving a character a name that is completely outside of the genre can be jarring and may end up pulling your reader out of the storyworld rather than in it--so be careful!

2. Don't be afraid to make up a name, but also don't feel obligated to.

Sometimes when you can't seem to find a name that fits your story well, you might have to make one up for yourself. Try taking a few different names you like and combining them. You may even be surprised to find that the name you made already exists! For example, I have a character for a future book idea named Zarabeth. Her name is (obviously) a combination of Zara and Beth. But as it turns out, Zarabeth is a character from Star Trek and I had no idea.
On the flip side, some writers feel that they must make up a cool, unique name for their characters--often because they have seen this done in other popular YA books. For example, The Hunger Games is full of made-up names or names that originated from plants or items. Katniss is a plant also known as an arrowhead plant, Peeta refers to pita bread and Peeta is a baker, Rue means to bitterly regret something and Katniss regrets not saving her, etc. Which is all fine and dandy, until writers look at these examples and then feel obligated to be just as creative and unique with their character names. You don't have to be! Character names are something that are too often stressed over more than they need to be. If you want to make up names, go for it. If you don't want to, don't! There is no requirement in writing that says your character names must be incredibly unheard of and unique.

3. Choose a name with a specific meaning if it works with the plot.

Using The Hunger Games as an example again, the name Cinna refers to a character in Shakespeare's Julius Casear. This is a hint at Cinna's fate in Catching Fire and therefore his name meaning works with the plot because it acts as a device of foreshadowing. If you want your character's name to foreshadow something or link to the plot in some way, go for it! There are tons of ways to be creative with this, from making up your own names as mentioned before to searching through different baby name or name generator sites.
However, don't choose a name with a specific meaning just to forcefully input a scene where the name is explained, but doesn't drive the plot forward at all. Giving your character's name a meaning and wanting to explain it is nice and all, but if it really doesn't have anything to do with your book, why bother? I tried so hard to give Avalon's name meaning in the book, but I learned very quickly that I was going about it all wrong. I gave her the name I did because I liked it and it fit her personality. It's a name I felt that her mom would have liked and given her, and the reason why Avalon has the name she does really doesn't matter to my plot at all--and that's okay.
In my current WIP, my MC Amelia is named Amelia because that is the first name that popped into my head when I created her. It fits her, and it's the name I think her parents would have given her. Does it have anything to do with the plot? Not really, no. And that's totally fine.
In a different WIP, my MC is named Thea, with her full name being Theandra--a name I made up. The name Thea means goddess or godly, and I created her full name, Theandra, to sound like the word thunder. Both of these meanings have specific purposes for the plot.



In the end, choosing names for your characters is ultimately subjective and up to you--the author! So don't let other books or writers make you feel pressured into naming your characters something other than what you want to name them. Your book is yours, your writing is yours, and your characters are yours. You are the one in charge, and you get to decide whether their names are unique, have specific meanings, foreshadow something, mean something else, or are just a simple name you like a lot. Don't stress about choosing names! Pick something that works for you, and remember that you can always change the name later--if the character will let you, that is. :)

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