Character Names and Traits

Published July 29, 2011 by caitlinnicoll

Last week, Hektor, over at After Troy wrote a post about the science behind words — or, more specifically, the sensory perceptions some words evoke (you can read the post here if you haven’t read it already). This got me thinking about character names.

How do you choose your characters names? Do you search for names based on meanings, or do you pick names that are olfactorily pleasing?

For me, it depends on the story. I tend to gravitate towards names I like, even when choosing them based on meaning. TLF was the only book where I actually picked names based on meaning. After all, they are gods and it would be silly to have the god of fire’s name to mean cherry blossom, or pretty princess, no matter how much I may like either name. I’ll file them away for another character in another book.

Do you think your favorite character’s name accurately describe the character of said person? Or do we associate these traits based on the bias of knowing the characters?

For instance, does the name Katniss Everdeen evoke the picture of an indecisive huntress? A person who can inspire a revolution? And I don’t know about you, but Peeta reminds me of Pita bread and that makes me very hungry.

How about Bilbo Baggins? Do you think of an unassuming yet cheerful person whose favorite hobby is food? Someone who is quiet, and clever, and tricksy?

Does Dorian Gray evoke a handsome, charming, yet deprave man who is obsessed with his own beauty? A man willing to do whatever it takes to preserve it?

And then there is Captain Jack Harkness, who quite possibly has the most awesome name ever. Personally, I think his name fits his personality perfectly. Hearing that name, I think of a handsome, charming, adventurous, debonair man. A man who may have questionable behavior, but one who will stick to his guns.

Lastly, for your viewing pleasure, a song that has been stuck in my head for weeks now:


4 comments on “Character Names and Traits

  • I inspired a post! I feel like a superstar.

    Names are important, though I don’t know of any great system for choosing them.

    Meaning and sound probably both matter, but I’ve definitely enjoyed books in which I couldn’t pronounce the names, and had no idea what they meant… so I guess I can’t claim it’s essential.

  • I usually browse name sites, trying names on a character until one ‘clicks.’ Once I see the perfect name, it usually sticks.

    Of course I am careful not to have too many of the names start with the same letter etc. But usually it’s a pretty organic thing for me. Sometimes I go by meaning, but I go more with what feels right.


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