I also look at the names of my other characters in a story. Do I have multiple characters with names that start with the same letter? Will this be confusing for my reader or are they different enough in sound and syllable? In the end I pick my names looking at my book as a whole and not just on an individual character basis.
I also don’t stop with first names. I give all of my characters last names and sometimes middle names, even if I don’t end up using them in the story. Part of this is just to be prepared in case I need to use a last name at some point, but it also makes the characters feel more real. Picking their last names helps me give my characters an identity. It makes me wonder about the heritage connected with their last name, about their family and the place this character came from. I think it helps me write a more well-rounded character.
Some basic rules of thumb I like to follow are:
1. Don’t use similar sounding names for multiple characters. I try to start every (main) character’s name with a different letter to help avoid confusion.
2. Make sure your reader can pronounce the names. Names with different spelling can be fun, but don’t overdo it.
3. Check your name’s origin; does it match your character? Knowing the origin of your character’s name (both first and last) will also help you know the background of your character.
4. Stay away from names that have already been done to death by other authors.
Some names I would avoid include…
1. “Kat” - Katherine, Catherine, Katy, Cat, Katniss, Katsa – The Kitty-Cat sounding names have been around for a long time. You’ll find this character name in The Taming of the Shrew, and Wuthering Heights, but it’s in A LOT of newer stories as well.
-Other Books with “Kat” Characters: East of Eden, Graceling, Halfway to the Grave, Hunger Games, Obsidian, Original Sin, The Vampire Diaries
2. “Damon” – Damon sounds like the ultimate bad boy name, and it’s been popping up in all sorts of forms lately. So avoid all Damon’s, Damen’s, Damian’s, and Daemon’s. This devilish sounding name has been done to death.
-Other Books with “Damon” Characters: Evermore, Marked, Obsidian, The Vampire Diaries
3. “Ari” – This is another name that’s been popular in YA lately. Whether it’s Ariana, Aria or just Ari, this name is everywhere.
-Other Books with “Ari” Characters: Gravity, Paranormalcy, Smokeless Fire, Under the Never Sky, Unwind
4. “Claire” – Claire sounds sweet and innocent. I would expect a character named Claire to be pure, maybe the girl next door. The thing is it’s become the go-to name for this type of character, so I’d avoid this name as well.
-Other Books with “Claire” Characters: City of Bones, Glass Houses, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Unearthly
5. “Will” – Whether It’s William, Will, or Willow, this name gets around as well. Often Will is a secondary character, but this name is still too popular to ignore.
-Other Books with “Will” Characters: Angelfire, Clockwork Angel, Divergent, Slammed, Willow
6. “Lucas” - Again many Luce’s, Lucian’s, Lucas’ are secondary characters, but there’s enough of them out there that you might want to think twice before using this name.
-Other Books with “Lucas” Characters: Evernight, Fallen, Harry Potter, Starcrossed
7. “Jack” – This name was once more popular than it is now, but is still one to take note of. You’ll see a lot more Jack’s in detective or mystery novels than in YA, but the name is still out there, and probably more so than any other name on this list.
-Other Books with “Jack” Characters: All the Rage, Bloodlist, The Hunt for Red October, Killing Floor, The Talisman
Are there other names you think should be on this list? Do you get annoyed seeing the same name over and over again, or are there certain ones you love regardless of how many books they pop up in?