N is for Naming


Artwork by Tom Torre (@CopernicusNerd)

By Jennie Goloboy

Science fiction and fantasy has a long and proud tradition of incredibly stupid character names. (My “favorite”: Bink, from Piers Anthony’s A SPELL FOR CHAMELEON. What’s yours?) However, there are limits, and it is possible for a character name to be so poorly chosen that I will reject the query. I feel that character names are an indication of the quality of the worldbuilding in general. Each name has to make sense as something either parents, in this world, would name their children, or something a character would pick up as a nickname later on.

Here are some red flags:

1. Female characters named after secondary sexual characteristics. If your heroine is named Boobira, and she’s princess of the planet Lustica, your query’s going in the round file.

2. Joke names. Obviously, there’s a range here– one-note characters who show up in a scene, do something amusing, and leave forever can safely be called Mr. Wigglybinkynose. And Terry Pratchett has gotten away with naming characters such things as Carrot and Moist. But in most cases, silly names get wearing after a chapter or two. Please use joke names with extreme caution.

3. Names that do not fit the pattern. F’tarn, E’prin, S’lair, and Bob.

4. Anachronistic names. Please, no medieval Jennifers.

5. Nearly identical names. I recently read a book where the main characters were named something like Brad, Brian, Bran, and Branch. It was a good book, but kind of painful to read.

6. And most importantly, do not name your characters using the Wizards of the Coast Character Name Generator: http://www.wizards.com/dnd/tool.aspx?x=dnd/4new/tool/cng.

PS: And try not to write yourself into a box when you name your characters! http://tadleckman.wordpress.com/2012/05/12/the-1966-star-trek-vulcan-proper-names-memos/

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