When developing characters—no matter what sort of characters you’re pursuing—heed common sense when  choosing a name.

You want the name to be perfect, to mean something, to be unique but not too weird. Names — character names AND the names of people in real life — are a big deal.

When choosing a character name for your novel it can be as pressure-filled as picking a name for a baby. It has to suit the character’s personality and make sense for the era.

Instead of calling the taxi driver Bob, give him an interesting name like Galveston Ngyen, Readers will remember him when he is dead 50 pages later.

Naming rivals Tim and Tom might confuse your readers.

There are never too many Toms, Dicks, and Harrys; all too many Zotticuses and Ruffinas – names that are impossible to pronounce and remember.  

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1. Check root meanings.

It’s better to call a character Caleb, which means faithful, than to overkill it by naming him Loyal or Goodman. Some readers will know the name’s root meaning, but those who do not might sense it. People from the United States, Canada, Australia, Ireland, Scotland and England have names that can differ wildly, When establishing character names know the geographical origin of the name. If your character is Chinese is is doubtful that his name would be Charles Darwin.

2. Get your era right.

If you need a name for an 18-year-old shop-girl in a corset store in 1930s, England, there is good reason not to choose Sierra or Courtney, unless such an unusual name is part of your story. Browse for names in the era you’re writing. A Depression-era shop-girl who needs a quick name could go by Myrtle or Jane; it will feel right to the reader.

3. Speak them out loud.

Your novel might become an audio book or an e-book with text-to-speech enabled. A perfectly good name on paper, such as Mark Crow, may sound unclear when read aloud: Mar Crow, or Mark Row.

4. Manage your main characters appropriately

Distinguish your large cast of characters by using different first initials and vary your number of syllables and where the emphasis belongs.

5. Middle names

In most crime fiction, the murderer rarely has a middle name or initial. This is due to the possibility that there’s a real person out there with it.

Naming characters can be a challenge. Give it a great deal of time and thought. Before long you’ll start to find the fun in it. Study the names great authors have come up with. And if worse comes to worst, here’s hoping you’re like Oates and lucky enough to just bump into your character in a dream—where you can ask him yourself.

“Linda has published sixteen books. She blogs about the publishing world, posts useful tips on the challenges a writer faces, including marketing and promoting your work, how to build your online platform, how to get reviews and how to self-publish.”