Creating a name for your main character is tricky unless you believe that any name will do, and that a person’s action is more potent than their name.

I can understand the action over label argument, but I think it is made primarily by people who believe their own name is (somehow) a strong statement.  Any writer who has troubled over using a pen name, or spent time testing out their name with initials and (or) a middle name, will resonate with this point.

When you create a name for your protagonist you are likely to create something that has just the right sound   For example, except for comedies, you would probably not give your character both a multi-syllable (three or more syllables) first and last name.  For one thing, it would become a bother to type over and over.

Strong names usually consist of three syllables.  Either a two-syllable first name and a one-syllable last name, or the reverse.  Single syllable first and last names seem too “slick”, or in some cases rough.

Of course you can call your character anything you want, but unless your character is tough and scary, he or she will probably be nicknamed by friends.  Joseph Scanlon (a 2-2 name) become Joe Scanlon (a 1-2 name).  The few times I’ve used long names, or worse, names hard to remember to spell correctly, I eventually use the old standby, Find/Replace and change them to something easier.  Keep in mind that using a name that is hard to pronounce (even to oneself), is likely to slow down your reader.

Why all this fuss over names?

It is simple, really.  The one word (or pair of them) that you respond to most quickly and viscerally, is your own name.  If your name appears in a large document, you can be sure that you will see it with even a light read.  If someone mentions your name in a noisy cocktail party, the chances are excellent that you will hear it despite the hubbub.

Take care how you label your characters.  If their names suggest weakness, “Herbert Smitthens”, for example, it may take a lot of work to make this person appear heroic.  A character with a name like Brad Parker, on the other hand, probably won’t convey a meek and mild character to your reader.

Choose wisely, try the names out.  Read a scene with the name in it.  If you stumble or laugh, change the name.  Search and Replace IS our friend, after all.


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