By Darvell Hunt
Have you ever read a story and gotten confused by what characters were doing what? Was it because the names weren't memorable or maybe they were too close to each other? Did the author have fifteen characters named Joe?
Naming fictional characters is hard. When I write, I like to get a good mix of names that sound random—like in the real world—and having names that have special meaning. Some writers like to have meanings for all of their character names, but since most people I know don't name their babies because of the meanings, I tend not to do that.
Even so, naming your characters is an important issue. Like, for example, I gave a character in a primarily mainstream young adult novel the name of Nephi. Readers who are LDS will immediately recognize the name. I've taken a bit of criticism from those who think the name doesn't fit the national audience, but I named the character after the city of Nephi, Utah, near which most of the story takes place. I argue that LDS readers will immediately have the impression that it is LDS-friendly writing and non-LDS readers will simply not notice the LDS reference. There's even more significance in the last name, which is Newman. I hope it works.
I also tend to pay homage to young adult books I read as a child, by naming characters Nancy, Joe, and Frank, after Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys, though the names are common enough to not be readily associated with these timeless classics. I also tend to use the common names of people I know, though the characters themselves are rarely based upon the people after whom they are named.
Really, though, I'm not good with names. People say this phrase often because they don’t think they can remember names, but I say it because I still feel intimidated by the process of naming of my characters. Having a unique first name myself, I understand how important a name can be, yet I honestly don't feel adept in naming my fictional babies.
Fortunately, I had my wife's help in naming my real babies. Perhaps I should ask her advice more often in my fictional worlds.