If you've been researching agents and publishing houses long enough, you know that July is generally a down month - in fact, many agents are closed to submissions in order to catch up, go on vacation, etc. So it's a perfect time to start a new WIP, right??!! But first you need some characters...
Recently I read a couple of blog posts about naming characters. One blogger admitted that when she reread an old ms, she realized two of her current WIPs characters had the same names (and she didn't remember it!). Another one said that they visualized their character first and then attributed the proper name.
Christy and I have both been teachers for quite a while, so we have access to LOTs of current and trendy names (over the past 10+ years). The problem is, though, sometimes we have certain attributes to those names. Like all the [insert name here]'s we've ever had have been brats. Or our favorite student was [insert name here] and we wouldn't want their mom to think we've named a mean/morally questionable/teenage character after their prescious daughter/son. So, there's goods and bads with being privy to a lot of names.
My current WIPs main character is Kaleb. It's a name I liked and as soon as I came up with the premise of the book, I knew that was his name. I never even remembered that several years ago, I had a preschooler with that same name and spelling until this summer when he was on my son's baseball team (they're not in the same grade). Now, he is a kid I really liked and still do, but I didn't name my character after him. So I'm leaving it for now. (we live in a teensy-tiny town, so if I get published, yes, people will know he's the only kid with that name/spelling around and that yes, I do know him). But I do have a secondary character named Jed - I don't know any Jed's, I don't know if I'll ever know any Jed's, and it's an odd name for this area (maybe every area), but it's not my fault that's what his parents named him and that's his name.
So, I started thinking, why do our characters have certain names? Other than they pop in our head or remind us of someone? I came up with a checklist - feel free to use it if you need some backstory (like I do with Jed, even though it won't go in the book) or if you find yourself recycling the same names and need some new ones.
Where is your story set and what are the popular names in the area and for the year? Mine are set where and when I live, so that's easy. But for the most popular names by state and year, the Social Security Administration is here to help. Click here for help. (and yes, for the place and year I was born, Jason and Jennifer were the most popular. Erica was #83 and there were 72 of us that year! Cool, huh?) A little warning here - you might not want to use the most popular current names - suddenly there's 50 books being submitted to agents all with the same mc and you want yours to stand out!
Does your character have a trait that you want to capitalize on? You could find a name that means something important to your character or story line at this link. For example, a character dying of cancer could have a name meaning "warrior" - no one needs to know it but you, but it perfectly fits the struggle your character faces.
Can your readers identify with and pronounce the names? I think this one is especially important in fantasy - sometimes I have real difficulty keeping the names apart because I'm not sure of the pronunciation. But it can also be in contemporary if it's a strange spelling and it catches my eye for page after page after page. Also I once crit'd an ms with an unusual character name and several times the author herself misspelled it, yikes!
Will your readers be able to keep track of the different characters. Don't have too many similar names - if your YA book set at a high school featuring a group of friends all named Kerry, Karissa, Kiersten, and Kristen, you better give them enough personality traits that we can tell them apart! (it works in funny 80s and 90s teen movies, not in books) click here for more explanation of this trap
How do you feel about nicknames? If your mc has a longer name, their close friends and family will probably give them a nickname - at the very least shortening Jacob to Jake. Or they could have an entirely different nickname - like shortening (longening?) Jacob to Jellybean. Think how the name can influence the nickname.
Does the name reflect their inner character? If you have a down-to-earth, rural, intellectual, very serious character named "Jewel", you'd better be prepared to answer why! (not that anyone named Jewel is not those things, it's just a stigma a lot of readers would have about unusual names and as the writer, you need to convince them why it works)
Here are a few miscellaneous links regarding character names:
Some ideas from Jody Hedlund (I swear I didn't copy this blog post - I found it after I wrote everything above!)
A printable worksheet to keep track of your characters
Another good checklist (that I swear I didn't copy and just found! I especially like the tip at the end about not constantly switching between different nicknames)
Let us know if there's any good tips or links you have in the comments. And don't forget to get WIPing!