By Janet Fogg
Last week I commented on the "confusing because of similarity," or tongue-twisting names sometimes encountered in science fiction and fantasy novels, including Footfall’s Chintithpit-mang and Harry Potter’s Gregorovitch versus Grindelwald.
I also mentioned Connie Willis’ method to minimize character-name confusion. She makes a list of the alphabet and when she names a character the first letter of that name is crossed off the list and not used again. You won't find Violet and Viola in one of her books unless similar names are important for moving the story forward.
This week I hope you’ll share your tricks in naming characters. Do you use “working” names until your world-building is complete and you're saturated with the personalities of your characters? Or do you change a name mid-way when it just seems obvious that Deborah should be Twyla?
Speaking of Twyla, one approach when seeking an unusual name is to drop a letter from a “more common” name. Not that Twyla is terribly common, but I’ve always been fond of it.
Twyla might become Twy, Wyla, or possibly Yla.
Or replace one letter or juggle the syllables.
Twyla could then be Twyle. Maybe. Twela? Nah. Tweela? Perhaps. Latwy? Hmm… Keep trying.
In Footfall, the “mang” in Chintithpit-mang represents a family within the alien culture, which assists in identifying relationships. Very helpful.
Another idea, regardless of the genre you write, is to search through the baby name lists of various cultures. If you’re using Connie’s trick then that’s even easier. Just scan through the “Cs” until you find a name that tickles your naming fancy.
I’ve occasionally changed the name of a character after completing a manuscript draft, but usually know early on what their name is. How about you? How do you select or craft names for your characters?