Names can help us convey who our characters are, where they’re from and, in some cases, even what they look like. One almost hisses when they say the name Katniss, a nod to her stealth and feline agility. Hannibal Lecter pretty much screams cannibal! And of course there is Scarlett O’Hara who we immediately know is a fiery force to be reckoned with. But did you know her name was originally Pansy? What if I told you Gandalf was slated to be the dwarf king and Bladorthin was to be the Grey? J.R.R. Tolkein played around with a number of names before landing on those we know so well today, but what if he had stuck to his original draft? Would it have made his characters less memorable?
Names are of course important to your character but if you’re like me the search for the perfect one can turn into a timesink. I cant tell you how many hours I’ve spent perusing websites with endless lists of monikers that should have be used for writing. I see you nodding out there, but fear not my writer friends, a number of well know authors also struggled with names before finding what worked or their characters:
Names that almost were and their final print versions:
Hermoine Puckle Hermoine Granger
Connie Gustafson Holly Golightly
Sherringford Holmes Sherlock Holmes
Ormond Sacker John H. Watson (Dr. Watson)
Stella Strong* Nancy Drew
(*Diana Drew, Diana Dare, Nan Nelson, Helen Hale and Nan Drew were also in the running)
Even those who are known for the amazing ability to name characters can occasionally have a “dry spell”. Charles Dickens was a master at naming characters. Just saying “Ebenezer Scrooge” feels rough and gritty on the tongue. His name immediately conjures up a crotchety and selfish man. But in that same story Dickens struggled with a name for Tiny Tim who was almost Puny Pete to name one of many incarnations.
The important take away here is that character names can change and most likely will. Don’t get too hung up on naming your characters and instead focus on writing your story by giving your characters “working names”. There’s a good chance that as your character comes to life on the pages, a name for them will become clear. But what of you reach the end of your final draft and have still not come up with a name? Just keep in mind that Gone With the Wind was bought with Pansy as its main character!
How do you chose your character names? Do you come up with them easily or would you rather have a root canal than name characters?