Do you like your name?
Is it a name that already has a personality or trait attached to it, even if that trait doesn’t match you at all?
Does it lead to jokes? For example, my name is Angel. For every three people who I meet, at least one of them says the following when I give my name: “Are you really an angel?” Ugh.
These are things to consider when it comes to the task of naming a character. If they’re in the background, that is one thing. They may have a name just because they have some loose connection to the main character. In my novel Blind Fae, I named the main character’s human parents because they were critical for the prologue and referenced here and there throughout the series. Their names were pretty standard for this very reason (Joan and Michael).
A writer cannot be as relaxed when naming their leads. Take two female lead names that I love: Phoenix Calderwood from my BFF screenwriter’s first script, and Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games. Their last names are pretty unassuming, but the first names jump right at you. The first thing I thought when I saw those names was : “These ladies mean business.”
I went the opposite route for my current female lead in Blind Fae: Samantha Dunbar. Her name appears typical, almost boring. Research the name, though, and you discover a lot more: Samantha is the feminine form of Samuel, which means “God heard.” The suffix of the name, -antha, means “flower” in Greek. The full translation: “God heard his flower.” Samantha is a “good” witch, and has a strong connection to the spirit world. And her last name is Scottish, from a country loaded with spirit and fairy folklore. A so-called typical name just became anything but typical.
Male leads are no different. What do you think when you hear a name like Bruce, or Gaston? More than likely, you think of a tough guy type. The name Dexter may remind you of a geek (or a serial killer, if you watch the show…but a smart serial killer). Names like Kevin, Brian, James, or Scott seem to be everyman names, but check out the links with the names and you get not only the meaning, but a personality profile as well. As you can see, names have quite a lot attached to them.
Another writing tidbit courtesy of the screenwriter is to be aware of naming your characters after their parents. In some spiritual circles, naming someone after a parent bestows all the good and the bad from that parent onto the child. If the father was an alcoholic, some believe, then a son named after him will suffer the same affliction.
A word of caution: Writers can easily get caught up in a naming frenzy, going into massive research over what the names mean, their origins, the family crest, and so on. Don’t forget to actually write a story for your newly named characters. 🙂