While a Rose by any other name would smell as sweet, the same rarely holds true for a poorly named character. A name is not just an identifier. A meaningful name can give insight into not only the character’s role and personality, but also the culture of their world and their origins.

Use a meaningful name to describe a character’s origins

A large amount of information is contained in a name. Meet someone new, and you can learn a lot about their origins just from their introduction.

Nearly every culture and country draws their names from different pools of choices. These pools are composed of names that all have their own cultural significance. It is because of this, that it is rare that someone from a Quaker community would name their child Hiroyuki. It is equally unlikely that a Mongolian nomad would name their child Carl or Ted. For their cultures, such names would have no meaning, and would be out of place.

A character named Lars or Espen for example, may come from Scandinavian descent. A character named Abraham or Noah might come from a household that practiced Christianity or Judaism. In these cases, the name says a lot about where the character may have come from. By then showing the reader who the character is, and how that differs from their origins, you can build more identifiable and convincing characters.

According to a few Amish name websites, Eli and Amos are common names in Amish culture. A character named Amos then, that is a hacker or works in the tech industry, would be interesting. Do they have a rebellious or inquisitive personality that drove them from Amish life? Did something traumatic happen in their past to cause that distance? Inspiring curiosity is good.

Literal meanings and matching personality

In the Gemsong Saga series, the main character is named Zephyr. Without spoiling anything, Zephyr has an affinity to wind, and can be seen as a catalyst for change. The definition of a Zephyr is a gentle wind. The name Zephyr then, gives a few clues about his role in the storyline. If you use this approach however, try not to be too on the nose. I like the name Zephyr, but naming him breeze or wind would not have worked at all.

Mythology can also be used to give meaningful names to your characters. An overconfident character, or one that doesn’t listen could be named Icarus. A strong soldier may be named Mars or Aries. You can stick with accessible mythology like Greek and Roman, or you can use more esoteric ones – There is certainly no shortage of choices.

Whatever your approach, try and make sure that the name still fits with the rest of the characters. If one character has a unique name, they all have to. Having a cast of Carl, Frank, Bill, and Ahura Mazda, probably won’t work too well.


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