Tips for naming your character

Many layers of name tags on a wall

Photo via Visualhunt.

So, the odds and ends in your brain have mashed together into a new person for your story, and you’re ready to give them a name, huh? Here are some tips for picking the best name for your character.

Consider the first name that pops into mind


Sometimes your gut is worth listening to. When you’ve developed a character enough that you can picture them in your mind, a name might come to you with little effort.

Try using a common word by changing a letter or two


If “windy” can become “Wendy” (or some sources say, a child’s mispronunciation of “friendly” as “fwendy”), then other words can become a name too. How about “rain” becomes “Tain,” or “bluster” becomes “Xustar”? Admittedly, this works better for fantasy names than contemporary ones.

Use baby naming sites


My go-to sites for baby names are babynames.com (because you can search by meaning) and babynamewizard.com (which provides interesting statistics on a name), but any name site will do. If you search names by meaning, try to avoid really obvious examples, like searching “cruel” and landing on the name Cruella. If the success of 101 Dalmatians has taught us anything, it can be done, but generally it’s a good idea to have more faith in your readers. They’re smart enough to figure out who the bad guy is even without obvious clues.

Try Google Translate


A friend of mine likes to plug in an attribute into Google Translate to see if an appropriate name comes out the other end. For example, “warrior” is translated as “Guerreiro” in Portuguese. You could use it straight (but risk being too obvious for your bilingual readers) or make a name based on it. Perhaps Guerro? But if you go this route it’d probably be a good idea to run the name past someone who speaks the language to make sure it’s not inappropriate or rude to do so in their culture.

The chubby bunny method


This tip is for fantasy names. Another friend of mine likes to stuff her mouth as full as possible with Oreos (crackers or marshmallows would work, too) and then say a normal name. Whatever it sounds like, she writes down phonetically. (It’s similar to the chubby bunny game.) For example, when your mouth is full Jocelyn sounds like Jorshwin, so that’s what she could name her character.

Things to watch out for


Any of these would produce a fine name, but here are a few additional tips on what to be careful of. I strongly recommend that you avoid naming your characters after someone you know. There are exceptions, such as if it’s a story based on their true experience and you have their permission, but generally speaking, it’s a can of worms you don’t want to open. Even if you mean well, they may not take it well.

Once you’ve picked a name, no matter your method, Google it. You need to make sure you’re not naming your character after a real person, as I said above, even if you don’t know them. An example from my own life: I had to write a short story for a college assignment. I had a minor character who was kind of sporty but I didn’t want to draw a lot of attention to him. So, I picked a common first name—Bob—and made his last name the mascot of my high school. That’s how I ended up reading my story aloud in class and getting the side eye for naming a character Bobby Knight. I don’t follow sports, and I had no idea that was a real person, let alone a famous one. When I explained my thought process everyone had a good laugh, but I learned a lesson!

It’s also important to make the name not too hard to spell or pronounce. Have someone else read it aloud. Did they pronounce it right? Does it bother you if they get it wrong? If they read a paragraph or two aloud that has the name in it several times, do they hesitate each time? If so, you may want to make some adjustments.

Perhaps it isn’t the spelling, but that there are multiple names that are similar tripping your beta reader up. A famous example is Sauron and Saruman. Yes, they are different names for different people, and die-hard fans would argue there’s no problem. But the alliteration and similar sounds can make it tricky for the rest of us to keep them straight. Perhaps you have three siblings and they all start with “Far” because of your invented world’s culture. Farwin, Farlad, and Farrent. It can be hard to keep them straight! Try avoiding similar names unless the characters are significantly different in personality and role to help differentiate them.

Finally, remember to take cues from the era and genre. It wouldn’t make sense to have an assassin in a medieval world named Tiffani. Nor would it make sense to have an Caucasian high schooler in an American suburb named Sakura, even if you love the name from anime.

Those are all the tips I have! But perhaps you have some good tips to share too, like my friends did with the Google Translate tip or the chubby bunny method. Let me know in the comments how you name your characters. Ever accidentally make a naming gaffe, like I did with my Bobby Knight?

Only nine plots exist

Stacks of books in a store

Photo via Visualhunt.

As of this writing, Google tells me there are 129,864,880 books in the world. Mentalfloss tells me there are 134,021,533. The actual count is probably higher since neither figure was calculated this year and it’s impossible to accurately count self-published books, since not all of them have an ISBN.

So, how can I be so brazen as to say there are only nine plots—only nine basic stories—in this world?

Here’s an example:

An orphaned child is abused by relatives. The child dreams of different life but cannot fight against their fate. A person wielding magic steps in and gives the child a chance to be whisked off to a castle, where the child is able to see their self-worth. They are eventually forced back home and the relatives fight hard to keep the child from returning to the castle, but thanks in part to good friends and a bit of magic, they are able to make it back and leave behind their abusive childhood home.

Am I talking about Cinderella? Or Harry Potter?

Obviously that is a simplified example, but you get my meaning. A better example would be all the novels based on the same fairy tale, such as Cinderella. They are all so unique and different (and there are plenty more than I’ve just linked to), and yet they follow the same plot.

And that’s just ONE plot!

But there are nine, and it is the writer’s job to choose one and make it unique with their own characters, details, and voice.

The only nine plots in existence

Character vs Character
Character vs Him/Herself
Character vs Culture/Society
Character vs Setting
Character vs Situation
Character vs God(s)
Character vs Fate
Character vs the Unknown
Character vs Machine

All stories have their plot based in one of these conflicts. So, if you’re wrestling with your story because it sounds tired and overdone, consider how you might make it fresh and exciting. Every plot has been done multiple times, and when stripped to its bones, yes, your story may sound familiar.

But you are the only you that there is. Only you can make your story different than all of the others, because no other writer has your voice. What changes can you make to reenergize your plot and to give it a beat of its own to march to?

Finish that story and up the total count of books released into the world. I know you have it in you!

Do you tend to gravitate toward a certain plot for most of your stories? Or are each of your stories different from the others? I really like character driven stories with lots of interpersonal conflict, so I tend to write Character vs Character or Character vs Culture/Society stories. What’s your favorite to read? Is it different than what you like to write?

Why I write

Hiker walking a path in the mountains

Photo via Visualhunt.

A person with a clear purpose will make progress on even the toughest road. A person with no purpose will make no progress on even the smoothest road. –Thomas Carlyle

Why do you write? If you don’t know the answer to this, you will have a hard time completing your stories.

I write to quiet the stories in my head. They won’t leave me alone—they haunt both my dreams and my daydreams—until I spill them out onto paper. I also write because as a teenager I desperately needed the escape books offered me. I’d like to offer a safe place to escape to for someone else who needs it.

So, why do you write? Share your purpose in the comments!

10 years

April and her husband on their wedding day, and then again ten years later

1 set of vows sworn in front of God and our witnesses.
2 individual people became one.
3 and a half years of dating before tying the knot.
4 in our family. My husband, me, and two sons.
5 different homes we have lived in since marrying.
6 years of our marriage we lived in Japan, where both sons were born.
7 and seventy times we have forgiven each other or have had to come to a compromise, and we will continue to do so seventy times seven more. :)
8 quotes we say to each other all of the time. (“Let’s see what’s in the box! Nothing! Absolutely nothing! Stupid! You’re so stupid!”, “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth? Don’t nobody understand the words that are coming out of your mouth”, “Look, sleeping people! It must be nap time”, “Snake? Snake? Snaaaaaake!”, “I can’t put my arms down!”, “Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up”, “It’s over 9,000!”, “Jinx! Buy me a coke.”)
9 times I’ve beaten my husband at video games. Countless times he’s beaten me.
10 years of wedded bliss!

Today is our tenth anniversary so I’m keeping this post short. Tell me in the comments how many of our quotes you recognize—and then share your favorites, too. See you next time!

Typing Test: What’s your WPM?

Graph showing Words Per Minute in a typing test

Photo via TypingTest.com.

I just took a 3-minute typing test to find out what my words per minute (WPM) score is. The results say 74 WPM with a 97% accuracy. I’ll take it! I normally don’t type that quickly when I’m writing since I have to stop occasionally and think about what I’m really trying to say, but when I just have to copy the words already in front of me it’s easier to go a bit faster.

If you try the test yourself, let me know your score! You can find it at http://www.typingtest.com/.