It's that time for another reader question!
Q: How do you go about naming your main character(s)?
I know some authors can't start writing unless they have chosen a name, claiming it helps them to get to "know" the character. Others, couldn't give a firecracker about it.
A: I don't consider myself to be firmly in either camp. Allow me to explain:
I don't/won't wait until I've found the perfect name to start writing a story. Mostly because I'm impatient. If the right name doesn't come to me fairly quickly, I'll pick a placeholder name and just change it later if/when a more suitable one strikes me (or as the character evolves), using the trusty 'find/replace' function.
Most of the time the right name just pops into my head. Sometimes I use the internet to find it. Occasionally I scroll through Facebook for inspiration. Rarely do I use a phone book, because that involves actually having one.
But don't let my impatience lead you to believe that I don't think picking the perfect name is important. I do. The right name can do a lot of the author's heavy lifting characterization-wise, and I'm nothing if not a lazy bastard (Just kidding! hehe..).
But seriously. Take the name Misty: it calls to mind a certain personality, right? A totally different personality than the name Eleanor? Is Helga not a completely different woman in the mind’s eye than a Kimmy or a Brittany? A Summer or a Willow or an Autumn-Sky?
But wait a minute, Michelle. Isn't that stereoptyical? I know a neurophyscicist named Mistylynn and a prostitute named Eleanor.
Yes, it's stereotypical. But sometimes stereotypes can work in your favor. Sure there are always going to be exceptions, but does that mean it would be in the reader's best interest to name a character something completely out of the realm of what's expected? (It could be. Depends on the story. Sometimes a twist on stereotypes can be fun. Sometimes a strange name is memorable. Anything can work if executed well. But I digress…) Let's say that's not my goal. Let's say my goal is to immerse the reader into my fictional world, to build the character up in the reader's head, and to make it easy for him/her to suspend disbelief. Well then I don't want to make my readers work harder than they have to in order to make those things happen. Because I love them (these hypothetical future readers).
And now comes the portion of the evening where I give tips that no one asked for that are quite possibly obvious:
-Pick a name that reflects your character's personality
-Avoid giving characters similar sounding names (Jack, John, Jane, Joan, Jean). Sure, there are two Alexei's in Anna Karenina, but unless you're Leo Tolstoy, that's probably a bad idea.
-Avoid cutesy spellings that are hard to sound out/pronounce. If your reader is constantly tripping over your character's name, it can have the unpleasant effect of pulling them out of the story.
-Use names that fit the period. As in, don't name your 19th century priest Kayden. (I bet you couldn't figure that out without my expert guidance. You're welcome.)
-When in doubt, the name Michelle is cute :)