Today we’d like to welcome multi-published Ghanaian author Empi Baryeh is here to talk to us about naming characters, sometimes it’s a treat while other times it’s a headache.
I once watched a movie whose title I always forget, but I’ve never forgotten the name of a character called Dalton Voss (Yes, I know I can use the name to find the movie, but I have intentionally decided not to do so). It may not be an exotic name or anything, but it was a strong name and was perfect for the character.
Character names matter.
A name may not be nice sounding in itself, but it must suit the character’s personality and story.
I’ll give you another example. I read a book by Wendy Warren titled, “Making Babies”. The hero was called Mitch Ryder. Now, let’s be honest, Mitch Ryder’s not a special sounding name on any given day, but to this day he’s one of very few romance novel heroes who’ve stayed with me. Not because he was alpha or anything (though I love alpha heroes), but Mitch was an honest to goodness good guy, the kind of guy you forget is the figment of the author’s imagination, of whom you might even think, “I could fall for this guy.”
Personally, I’ve always agonised over naming my characters. It is as important to me as developing my plot. My theory is that even when a reader doesn’t pause and think, “That’s a good name,” somehow the name of a character has a bearing on how much a story is enjoyed or remembered.
While I don’t have a tried and true system for naming my characters, it’s definitely not about slapping two names together and running with it.
Here are a few things to consider when developing a character’s name:
1) Who is my hero/heroine (or secondary character, especially if there’s a chance for a spin-off)?
Think about the character and the basic plot of your story. Think about what kind of name would fit such a person. Come up with various options until you reach one that sets off a ding-ding- ding-ding in your head.
2) Similar sounding names
In real life, you may certainly find Andrea and Andrew dating, and it may be funny or cute to say “Andy,” and have both of them answer, right? But imagine reading a novel and not knowing who’s who, having to go back a few lines to figure out which Andy is talking. Unless the confusion is an integral part of the plot, a situation like this will just slow down the story for the reader.
I reckon most writers know better than to give their hero and heroine versions of the same name.
But here’s a different example. A guy named Matt is dating a girl called Stella whose brother is called Max. Now, Matt and Max are obviously two different names. In fact if you were to use the full names, Matthew and Maxwell/Maximillian, you could get away with it. However, Matt and Max can be confused when a reader is engrossed in the story.
Bottom-line: if it isn’t integral to the plot, the reader doesn’t need that distraction.
As an African writer who has decided to write about African characters, I feel I need to ensure that my characters’ names can be pronounced by people who aren’t Ghanaian (phew!). Have you ever read a book where you kind of glossed over the name cos it was too long, too complicated and you were enjoying the story too much to pause and figure out how to pronounce the name?
Et voilà! Simple as 1-2-3!
- What makes a memorable character name for you?
- Which character(s) have had memorable names for you and why?
- (For writers) Do you have a system for naming your characters?
Empi Baryeh has been writing since the age of thirteen after stumbling upon a YA story her older sister had started. The story fascinated her so much that, when she discovered it was unfinished, she knew the task of completing it rested firmly on her shoulders, and somehow the ideas and the words for the rest of the story began to pour into her mind. She’s been writing ever since. It wasn’t until another thirteen years later, however, that the romantic in her geared her toward romance. She now focuses on heart-warming multicultural romance with enough passion to enthral readers who want a little sizzle with their romance.
When she isn’t writing, she’s plotting a new story in her head, reading, browsing or watching one of her favourite TV shows. She currently lives in Accra with her husband.
Find Empi online at:
- Blog: http://www.empibaryeh.wordpress.com/
- Facebook: Empi Baryeh, Author (https://www.facebook.com/empibaryeh)
- Twitter: @empibaryeh
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