“Must a name mean something?” Alice asked doubtfully.
Choosing a character name is a task every writer faces.
Whether it’s the protagonist, or the villain, or the housemaid in chapter three, all of the characters a writer peoples his or her story with need names.
There are a couple of things to avoid when naming characters. Many times, I’ve fallen into what I call ‘the ‘J’ trap.’ I read through my draft, and realize to my dismay that I’ve got four characters whose names all start with ‘J.’ Jamie, Jason, Jennifer, and Joe, anybody? (What can I say? I do like those ‘J’ names.)
Is your character unusual? Give him or her an unusual name. John Knowles did this to excellent effect with Phineas, a character in his coming-of-age novel, A Separate Peace. Like his name, Phineas was unique and unforgettable. And he wasn’t the main character; Gene Forrester was. Yet it’s not Gene I remember… it’s Phineas. Such is the power of a well-chosen name.
Some other unforgettable character names -
Miss Minchin, A Little Princess. You can almost see the dour, pinched face of Sarah Crewe’s nemesis at Miss Minchin’s Seminary for Girls from her name alone.
Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pride and Prejudice. This name perfectly suits the arrogant Mr Darcy, the bachelor in possession of “ten thousand a year,” who therefore must be in need of a wife.
Holly Golightly, Breakfast At Tiffany’s. She’s a stylish waif standing on the outside of Tiffany’s, looking in. Her fanciful name suits her unconventional lifestyle and her reinvented, cafe-society persona.
Atticus Finch, Scout, Boo Radley. Every character’s name in To Kill a Mockingbird is unique, memorable, and absolutely perfect.
Bertie Wooster, Jeeves, Freddie Widgeon, Pongo Twistleton, “Chuffy” Chuffnell. P.G. Wodehouse’s character names are every bit as singularly comedic and eccentric as the characters themselves.
The protagonist of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” on the other hand, has no name at all. From the moment she arrives at Manderley, Maxim de Winter’s new bride is completely overshadowed by his first wife, the eponymous Rebecca.
Charles Dickens peopled his novels with dozens of unforgettably named characters – Mr Micawber, Uriah Heep, Pip, Mr Jaggers, and Lady Deadlock, to name a few. Who can forget the embittered Miss Havisham, wearing her faded, yellowing wedding gown, or kind-hearted Little Dorrit, who grows up in Marshalsea debtor’s prison caring for her father?
By any other name would smell as sweet.” – Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)