a Children's Book in 14 Days
What's In a
Harry Potter, Huckleberry Finn and, er
by Jill McDougall
Remember that dashing manly hero in Gone
with the Wind? What was his name again?
Of course Rhett Butler. How could anyone forget?
But what if Margaret Mitchell had named her handsome hero
something entirely different - Percy Sprong for example.
Or Hubert Gribble?
Would you still feel the same way about him?
And what if Scarlett OHara had been Enid Snirke or
Names convey rhythm and flavour and shape. They evoke
memories and awaken our senses. They roll round our
tongue a certain way. Names affect how the reader
responds to a character.
Here are important points you need to consider when
choosing characters names:
confuse your reader
When I was seven, I was given a book that featured twin
sisters. The good sensible twin was called Molly. The
naughty one was Polly. Or was it the other way round? I
could never remember which twin was which because keeping
track of them was a mental chore. I have no idea what
happened to Molly and Polly because I never made it past
Rhyming names are a problem because they look and sound
too similar. Names with the same beginning letter (Penny,
Mr Poulson, Dr Paul) pose a similar problem. So do names
with similar endings (Cassie, Bonnie, Flossie.)
Dont forget that the reader hasnt lived with
these characters as long as you have and any techniques
you use to aid character identification will be
If you choose names that are difficult to pronounce, you
create distance between reader and character. If you are
convinced that Phiponoughlier is the only possible name
for your mad scientist, then introduce the name once and
then provide a nickname: Please call me Phip.
Most Western societies are multi-cultural. Add
authenticity and an inclusive feel to your work, by
reflecting this cultural diversity in your
characters names. Educational publishers, in
particular, will look kindly upon the inclusion of a
range of characters with names that are easy to
The website http://www.babyzone.com has lists of baby
names by category including nationality.
Science fiction and fantasy writers can have a lot of fun
with characters names. When creating a whole new
world, you want your names to sound different from mere
earthly humanoids, but not too different.
Some writers select common names and then change a single
letter to create something new. For example:
David becomes Dafid
Amelia becomes Amelira
Names can also reflect the characteristics of an entire
race. A preponderance of vowels in a name suggests an
ethereal quality and would suit fairies or elves. Try
taking a common name of three syllables and swapping some
of the consonants for vowels. Thus:
Samantha becomes Eamantia
Jeremy becomes Aeriemy
On the other hand, names with extra consonants sound
heavier. Metallic robotic creatures may have a number of
hard consonants in their names such as Broddon or Robard.
power to your picture book
Names in picture books should be chosen with special care
since each precious word must convey tone and atmosphere.
For example, the name Digby evokes the slow rumbling
movements of a heavy creature. Just perfect for a wombat.
On the other hand, Mirette evokes a certain lightness and
agility. Just right for an acrobat.
Jane Covernton , the editor at Working Title Press,
suggests that if you cant possibly change your
characters name, then its probably the right
your characters memorable
Who can forget that Professor Sprout teaches Herbology at
Hogwarts School or that Moaning Myrtle is a ghost?
And remember Mr Plod the policeman in the Noddy books?
The names of marginal characters are just as important as
that of the prima donna who hogs centre stage. In fact,
you can be a little sillier and more creative in naming
your bit part characters. An appropriate name helps your
reader remember who is who, especially if these
peripheral characters flit in and out of your story.
One trick is to make a list of the personality traits of
your character. If that wacky teacher is the nervous
type, write down all the words that characterise this
behaviour. Your list might include: fidgety, flustered,
twitchy, jittery, jumpy.
Then play around with these words to come up with
Titch E Finglet perhaps, or Fidge Jigglebottom.
Roald Dahl had a lot of fun choosing appropriate names
for his secondary characters. Augustus Gloop is a
particularly gluttonous child, Aunt Spiker is mean and
vindictive and Headmistress Trunchbull rampages through
the school creating havoc.
Choose names to create a catchy title
I once changed a characters name from Jenna to Jess
so that I could call my story Dont Mess with Jess
and my short story Smart Alec began with the title.
Catchy titles sell books and characters names can
be chosen to give your title that extra edge. You can
have a lot of fun coming up with good title/name
whats in a name?
Next time you are considering naming your dashing hero
Claude Clodwamble or your prissy school teacher Madam
Slambunger, remember the familiar Shakespearian question,
Whats in a name?
The answer? Plenty.
© Jill McDougall 2007
Jill is the author of over a hundred books for children.
You can visit her website (http://www.jillmcdougall.com.au) to find more