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Naming your imaginary babies

381861_1172-shadows-on-the-grassSo, you’ve got your plot. You’ve written a handful of┬ástory outlines, done some research on the setting you’re thinking of using, and told all of your friends and neighbors to back off, get lost, and leave you alone to write.

Awesome. It’s a good start.

But what happens when it’s time to put pen to paper and actually create the characters you’ve been picturing?

You’ve probably got a good idea of the physical traits, quirks, and the backstories of most of your population. But what you name these brand-spankin’-new folks is as important as any other┬áchoice you’ll make.

Don’t take that decision lightly.

When first choosing a name for your character, scribble down anything that pops into your mind. Names you like, names you wish you had, the name of that crackpot landlord you used to have, or the name of your favorite soda. Anything goes.

Once you’ve got a nice little list and you’re mentally exhausted, stop and read back through what you’ve written. As much as it hurts, take your pen and draw a line through any names that come preloaded, unless the preconceived notion in question will specifically work in your favor.

For example, be it fair or otherwise, if you name your character “Stacey”, most of us are going to picture a bouncy little teeny-bopper with blond hair and a cheerleader’s uniform. If that’s what you’re writing, go for it.

If not, and you still love the name, then fine–after all, it’s your story, isn’t it? But walk into the situation knowing that if you want Stacey (especially if you spell it with an “i”) to be a serious, mousy, wallflower law student, you’re going to have to work extra hard to win the reader into your world. By God, it better be good, and it better be believeable. You’re starting in the back of the pack.

Also run through the list with celebrities in mind; if someone immediately strikes you, or it’s an unusual name like “Rumer” or “Beyonce” that really only happens in the public mind once, then you’d better have a very good reason for choosing it. Maybe your lead female was named after Cher because her parents were hippies, and it contributes to her personality. In that case, it’s a terrific idea. In any other, it’s unspoken exposition that could get you into trouble when you try to define her for yourself.

You can name your characters whatever you’d like, of course. Just know that your readers arrive with a suitcase full of cultural references in-hand, and be sure not to let any of their preconceived notions get in the way of what’s most important–your story.

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