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When it comes to writing novels, names often get overlooked in the grand scheme of things. Most of us are happy if we can tell who is talking and we can remember the character’s names for the entirety of the book, but bad names can ruin a book. I don’t know about you, but when I get a hold of a book where the main character’s name is a comical 20-character tangle I can’t pronounce, it ruins the book for me. It’s hard to take a book, or a character, seriously when you want to roll your eyes every time you read the narrative.

In this article I’ve compiled a list of things to consider when naming a character for a novel, and though it’s pretty simple, I hope it serves to help someone in their future endeavors to name a character. Most of this is common sense, but it’s often easy to forget these little tidbits of wisdom when you’re busy trying to figure out if your character makes a better Ashley or a Paige.

Getting a  Spark


There are many great places to get ideas for names. I’ll list some here that you may have missed.

• Phone Books
• TV Credits
• Family & Friends
• Baby Name Lists
• Mythology
• Combine two names! Courtney + Evangeline = Courline
• Evolve a name! Caroline->Carline->Carlene->Lene->Lena
• Random Name Generators

Sometimes you may hear a name that strikes you. Write it down. Keep a list of names you like or that you may have heard and found unique, but may not be able to use at the present moment. When you need a new name for a character, check your list! You may already have one.

Name Length


The length of a character’s name is an important factor to consider when choosing one. Short names are often more memorable than long names, but long names can also have a significance. Generally, short names are often equated with strong, simple, and good characters. (Ariel, Juno, Harry, Jack ) Longer names are usually associated with nobility, intelligence, and sometimes, evil. (Voldemort, Hermione, Desdemona, Lancelot) Of course this isn’t always the case, but it’s something to think about when naming your characters. Especially when you’re naming a main character, it’s often helpful to make up a shorter name as it will be repeated often, and it needs to be easy to remember and pronounce.

Also, if your character has a long first name, consider balancing it out with a short last name, or vice versa. “Alexandra Gallager” is a mouthful, but “Alex Gallager” and “Alexandra Hart” are easier to swallow.

How Many Names Do You Need?


When creating a character, you should know the character’s full name, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use it. Most of the time in novels, a character’s middle and even last name are not used at all, and if they are, they’re used only a handful of times. The exception to this of course is Historical novels in which propriety corners the characters into referring to each other by last name. For instance, in one of my novels I have a character named Abigail Olivia Conway, but no one ever calls her that. They call her Abby, Ms. Conway, or simply, Abigail.

Of course there will be instances in which a character needs a particularly long name due to their culture or an inherited title (we’ll get more into that later), and the time may come when you will have to repeat the whole thing: James Ferdinand Elijah Beaumont III of Durham (ouch!). If you have to have a lot of names, make sure they all fit together.

Also consider the fact that for some stories, it may be better to have only one name or no name at all. As an example, I have a novel where the main character is simply called “Khet”. She lives in Neolithic times when surnames didn’t exist and communities were so small that second names weren’t needed.

Some great stories, such as The Postman, Waterworld, and The Time Machine have main characters whose names are never revealed. They are simply referred to by description: “The Postman”, “The Mariner”, and “The Time Traveller”.

Sometimes characters are named only by nickname or by an alias. You should know what your character’s real name is, but that doesn’t mean your audience needs to.

Nicknames & Pet Names: Unique vs. Practical


If your character has a long name, or has several, you may consider giving them a nickname—particularly if your character’s name is difficult to pronounce. Even if your character does have a short name, you may consider letting some of your other characters give them a nickname or a pet name. For example, I’ll bring up Abigail again.  For most of the characters in my story, Abigail is referred to as “Ms. Conway”, but her friends call her “Abigail” or “Abby”. Her curmudgeonly grandfather calls her “girl”. Nicknames don’t have to be used by your entire cast of characters; they can be exclusive to certain individuals.

When choosing a nickname, it helps to consider if it’s a convenient nickname, or an opportunistic one. For instance, Abigail is referred to as “Abby” because it’s shorter. It’s a tourniquet version of her name, and what I’d call a “convenient nickname”. It exists because Abigail is a mouthful to say all the time. Hypothetically, Abigail could meet a man who refuses to call her anything but Violet. Violet, because when they first met she had a bright purple shiner where she’d been elbowed in the eye. Calling her Violet (referring to the color of the bruise) is an opportunistic nickname. Opportunistic nicknames don’t necessarily have to relate to a character’s real name.

What’s important to remember with nicknames is to adapt them to the character and the character’s situation within the story. For instance, if you were writing a young adult novel where the main character’s name was Maggie but everyone only called her “Raven” (for no particular reason), it would seem somewhat absurd. If you’re going to give a character a unique nickname, there should be a story behind how they got it, and it has to make sense. Why would I call Maggie “Raven”? Because in 6th grade she dressed up as a Raven in a school play and sneezed so hard from the feathers that she fell off the stage and into the front row. The kids at her school call her Raven to tease her, and she doesn’t particularly appreciate it. I would NOT call her Raven “because it sounds dark and awesome”.

Symbolism


Symbolism is okay if it’s subtle and believable, but if you’re trying too hard to be clever, you’re going to get a few eye rolls. Naming a dark, grim character “Raven Darkwood” is somewhat ridiculous. Naming the same character Darcy Mordant doesn’t seem so odd. Did you know Mordant is synonymous with: biting, caustic, cutting, pungent, poignant, sharp / grim, critical, or sharp humor? Darcy literally means “dark”. Don’t make your symbolism so obvious it becomes silly.

Other Naming Conventions…


In fantasy and sci-fi in particular, it’s common to have a character’s name be a little unconventional. Sometimes characters are named by their heritage or a title. For example, often in ancient times people were named after their father:  Erikson (Erik’s son), Thompson (Tom’s son) etc, their job: “Fletcher”, “Carter”, “Potter”, or were given a title: “The Bold”, “The Red” “Heavy-Hand”. Sometimes these names and titles were adapted through the family line. For example: Dracula literally means “Son of Dracul” Dracul meaning Dragon. Vlad Dracula III was named after his father, Vlad Dracul II who was historically a member of the Order of the Dragon. It’s okay to make something up if the naming convention works for your world.

A Few Things to Consider


  • Names have a flavor. Some names (Damien, Delilah, Lilith, Lucifer) sound evil. Some names (Chastity, Harmony, Ella, Grace, Joy) sound good. Some names (Jace, Teagan, Skye, Aiden) sound modern. Some names (Edward, Abigail, Sebastian, Lottie) sound classic.  When you’re choosing a name make sure the flavor of that name fits your character, the time period, and their heritage. It makes no sense to give your character a classic Italian name if they’re from America in the year 2042.
  • Your character doesn’t get to pick their name. Their parents picked their name. When choosing a name for your character, consider where their parents grew up and the type of people they are. For example, if I had a character whose parents were Irish but had moved to America before she was born; her name might not sound American. It’d probably sound Irish. By the same token, orphans who are raised in nun-run orphanages often have names relating to religious figures. Hippies may name their kids really absurd names like Rainbow Joy or Moon Ray. Poor kids. Names are based on the parent’s expectations for their children. Don’t use a trendy name just because it sounds cool.
  • Avoid famous names unless you’re trying to make a point of it. Oprah probably wouldn’t be a great idea. Neither would James Bond. When in doubt, always Google your character’s full name to make sure it’s not accidentally associated with a well-known character from another book or a celebrity!
  • It’s okay for fantasy names to be quirky, but not absurd. Don’t use excessive apostrophe’s or add a ton of z’s, x’s and y’s. Don’t double or triple up on vowels. It makes you look silly.
  • Avoid androgynous names (Sam, Alex, Billie) unless you’re making a point. Using androgynous names makes it hard for your readers to figure out what gender your character is. The exception is if you’ve purposely given your character an androgynous name to spark character development. Example: A boy named Ashley who feels defined by his name and spends the book trying on different names for himself in an attempt to become someone other than who he is.
  • Try not to end your character names in “s”; it makes it difficult to write:  Hans’s? Hans’? What?
  • Avoid names that have more than one pronunciation (or cannot be pronounced) it’s not clever, it’s annoying. If your readers can’t pronounce the name, they’ll skim. You never want your readers to skim.
  • While unique names can sometimes be memorable, they also run the danger of seeming absurd to your readers. Plain names may not stand out as much, but they’re usually more relate-able, pronounceable, and rarely produce fits of eye-rolling.
  • Vary your letters. You don’t want an entire book where ever character’s name begins with “M”, you also don’t want two main characters with the same first initial, or a character whose name sounds like a rhyme. If it sounds silly to you, it probably is.

Don’t Be Afraid To Set a Name Aside


It’s okay to venture into writing a story where you don’t know any of the character’s names. It’s also okay to change a character’s name at any time during the writing process. If you aren’t sure what to name your character, write in a filler name that can be easily found and replaced at a later time. Get on with your story. Eventually you’ll settle on something, or you’ll choose not to have one at all. Either way, don’t let your inability to choose a name keep you from writing your story! Need good filler name? Grab a relative’s name. They won’t read the first draft anyway, right? You can also use simple designators like: “MFC” (Main Female Character) “JANE” or “JOHN” (as in Doe), or “THATANNOYINGGIRL” and “THEBROODINGBOY”. Have fun with it.

Well, it was short, but hopefully I gave you a few things to think about when considering names for your character. Thanks for taking the time to read my little guide to choosing names. I hope it helps!
A quick guide with tips on picking character names for creative fiction :)
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:iconstettafire:
Stettafire Featured By Owner Mar 28, 2015  Student Traditional Artist
I used to struggle a lot with naming my charcters, so what I did evntually was I just gave them gernic names with the intention of changing them later.
For example, all my lead female charcters in all of my works are initially called Anne, and I change the name later. While all my lead male charcters are initially called Oliver and I later go back and change it:)
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:iconatlantima:
Atlantima Featured By Owner Sep 15, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Good advice. I read it even though I already have all my characters named. Who knows, maybe a situation will come up that I need to invent and name another OC?

"When in doubt, always Google your character’s full name to make sure it’s not accidentally associated with a well-known character from another book or a celebrity!" Yep, I'm definitely glad I did the Google test before using the name "Colin Baker".

I got the names of my OCs from various places:

Alexis - Picked from a list of baby names for girls. I liked it because it wasn't too common but not super rare or weird either. Also it lends itself well to nicknames: Lexie, Lex, Alex, Allie. Her surname "Chandler" is the maiden name of my BFF.
(Originally I had the thought of writing her story without even naming her, but I decided against it. Good thing too, as this fanfic is turning out quite long, it would have gotten awkward.)

Leda Sisinis - I looked up the meaning of "Alexis" and found it was Greek in origin so I decided she needed a Greek ancestor. Picked Leda from some list of Greek girl names and "Sisinis" from Wikipedia's Category:Greek-language surnames

Spencer Vermaak - Don't quite remember where "Spencer" came from but "Vermaak" I got off a list of common South African surnames since his parents are from there.

Colin McQuorquodale Well "Colin" is the name of a guy on some podcast I listen to and "McCorquodale" is the surname of one of the patients at the doctor's office where I work.
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:iconcipherhegehog064:
CipherHegehog064 Featured By Owner Sep 11, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
I've been reading your guides, and I must say, they're good fantastic!
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Sep 15, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
aww thank you :)
Reply
:iconalphabetsoup314:
alphabetsoup314 Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Caroline->Carline->Carlene->Lene->Lena

That is scarily close to how I named one of my characters. I went Carolina --> Lina --> "Hey wait, people who don't watch RvB are not gonna know to pronounce it like the last part of Carolina. They're gonna see it as 'leena'. Might as well change the spelling..." --> Lena

Very helpful ideas here. I'd like to add in less-well-known historical figures as a source of names. Or at least, not well known to the general public. Einstein might be too well known (it might be okay as a nickname though), but maybe Avogadro or Heiskanen could work. 
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:iconsweetsandcharades:
SweetsAndCharades Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014
Really interesting and informative guide! Although that about avoiding names that have more than one pronunciation... Sometimes it is not intentional. (Well, to be fair, it probably never is...)  But I got really annoyed when I suddenly realised that my main character's name, Levine, could be pronounced like "Divine", and not only like "Ravine" as I always imagined it in my head. Sigh. And I who hated when authors had to specify how to pronounce the names....
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
haha well, you can't prepare for everything I guess!
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:iconraylaopal:
RaylaOpal Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014  Student General Artist
These are some excellent tips! Thank you for sharing your wisdom *choir plays in background* You are obviously a skilled writer (in my opinion, that is)... and then there's me, who's main character is names Rayla. *cries*
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
lol Thank you, and what's wrong with Rayla? I think it's a pretty name. Short, easy to say.
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:iconraylaopal:
RaylaOpal Featured By Owner Apr 11, 2014  Student General Artist
Your welcome! ^^
Hmm, true. It just seems that it's from a fantasy world. xD
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:icontheice-sorceress:
TheIce-Sorceress Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2014
naming names is the absolute WORST!

I hate doing it the most in my stories, it's so tedious and awful! :(

Ugh....
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:iconjustanotherentity97:
JustAnotherEntity97 Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2014  Student Traditional Artist
As an Abigail myself, I personally have never been called anything but Abby unless it's by parents/doctors/teachers. The funny part is that Abby doesn't quite fit with my full name, only Abigail does.
...Anyway. Great tutorial!
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:icontessaturtle:
TessaTurtle Featured By Owner Jan 9, 2014   Writer
Those were some great tips! 
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2014  Professional Digital Artist
XD Thank you!
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:iconliketheisland:
Liketheisland Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2013  Professional Filmographer
Sweet Jesus. Never have I seen such an exhaustive tutorial on names alone. Pretty deceptively simple topic, now that I think about it. All these tips are useful, but I was especially glad to see the part about the parents, as I've seen an astonishing amount of people not take that into consideration (I mean, I guess if a character is old enough to legally change their name, that's a different story, but still). And I'll admit I chuckled at the point regarding the tons of z's, x's, and y's, because I have a character with three y's in her name. Luckily she's just a tertiary character and goes by a shortened name most of the time. But anyway, I want to get up and slow clap for this tut. Thanks for sharing! 
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
awwies thank you :3 and you're welcome! i'm glad you found it helpful! :D
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:iconemperorgothon:
EmperorGothon Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2013
Naming characters is always a problem I have - they way I try to do it is that I give a name that best suits their personality. For examle, I use the name Daniar for my heroine as that is a strong sounding, but also gentle name - which is her personality. Then I have my villainess called Zarracka, that's a nasty sounding name, much like her character. But then I also have an emperor character called Gothon - a short and powerful name.

Names really can leave an impact on the reader if done correctly and the advice you gave here is spot on. I'll keep an eye out for any more posts you have like this as this is really good stuff for those getting into writing. :)
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:iconkonnono:
Konnono Featured By Owner Nov 25, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
A really useful guide! I try to make sure the names mean something (like matching their lineage and such), but I find that I only limit that to the main characters which is a pretty bad habit orz
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:icontheoneandonly-k:
TheOneAndOnly-K Featured By Owner Nov 21, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Hmm 

I made 'Ramvelle J Jones' which I think is a long name, but balanced with a short one, not to mention I adore the name since I made it from scratch.

But I'm losing a little grip on some of my other characters...

Amira Foster
Misha Foster
Kris J

In my view, their all too short, so could you help?
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:iconroadkill369:
Roadkill369 Featured By Owner Oct 3, 2013
Handy advice :) Thanks much!
Reply
:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Oct 3, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
welcome :)
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:icondainas-fantasy:
Dainas-Fantasy Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
This is one of the things I needed help with the MOST! I have many other questions and I'm not sure who to ask, but this WAS one of them and thank you very much...I LOVE this group! I'm just starting getting involved with it. :D it ROCKS! :iconbigheartplz:
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Oct 3, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
XD i'm glad you found it helpful
Reply
:iconmariaarnt:
MariaArnt Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013
I work in an insurance agency, and I find the best names in our book of business lol.
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
I never would have thought of that one!
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:iconmesai:
mesai Featured By Owner Jul 23, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Great tips! I would recommend www.behindthename.com as it is quite useful, with meanings, themes and such  ^^
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:icondainas-fantasy:
Dainas-Fantasy Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
THANK you!!! :)))))))
Reply
:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Jul 25, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
thanks, and very true! I use that one myself sometimes
Reply
:iconbookwormmk:
BookWormMK Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
The problem with name generators is that they can't capture the writer's mindset. I've tried a few and they always come up with either terrible or unsuitable names. And when I try to come up with my own they end up sounding similar!
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Jul 20, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
it can depend on the name generator - i've come across some really good ones over the year (like the one i once found that allowed you to set the nationality, gender, and length of the name list it generated). right now I also particularly like babynamegenie which allows you to input gender, first, middle, or last name, and then it generates the rest for you so you can see how they all sound together ^^
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:iconbookwormmk:
BookWormMK Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I've tried a few rather randomly. The problem is characters who live in a fantasy world and therefore have no nationality. I don't deal with last names much either- I tend to stick something simple and useful, mostly relating to jobs or where they live. SoI just get random names and need to try again and again before I get a normal sounding name.
Reply
:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Jul 21, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
ah, that does make a difference ^^
Reply
:icondancingwolfdragon:
DancingWolfDragon Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
never knew that about 'Darcy' o.O

I remember one of my classmates telling me to change one of my character's name because "the name Veronica is too mainstream"
I told him that making up weird, tongue-twisting names is mainstream XD

Anyway, I just love all these article you put up! Thank you so much :hug:

now, where was that guy with the opportunistic nickname? 
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Jul 19, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
hahaha i agree with you :p and you're welcome!
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:iconauthoressrewritten:
AuthoressRewritten Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2013  Student General Artist
Yes! You have finally written a guide on the troubles and complications of naming characters! The idea of evolving a name is awesome. I did that with my main character, going from Amy to Amelia to Melly. I wasn't fond of Amy, but Amelia means hardworking, so there we are. Wow, that was a rant. Thanks for the guide!
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
haha you're very welcome :3
Reply
:iconinkeverlasting:
inkeverlasting Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2013
This is a great little guide--I get crazy about names, sometimes, thinking about how they roll off my tongue or how many syllables I want, and many of your points cross my mind as well. (Although, my main character is Calais, which ends in s and is a bit exotic, but she refuses to take another name.)
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:icondainas-fantasy:
Dainas-Fantasy Featured By Owner Oct 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Calais is a beautiful name! I live in Louisiana and we have places here like street names with Calais, or Rue Calais strip malls and stuff....very French!! :)
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:iconinkeverlasting:
inkeverlasting Featured By Owner Oct 6, 2013
Well thank you! She is Canadian, so the French made sense. (I thought it was pretty, too.) :)
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
XD Thank you.
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:iconcrazy-aika:
crazy-aika Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I love the ideas for creating a name like evolving or combine them! I will try to use it n.n

Also the symbolism make me worried at first for a character but when I read about parents' decision make me relax. It looks like Aurea Heartsmith really fits my character n.nu.

All this guide help me a lot! Thanks for sharing it.
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
you're very welcome :3 thank you for taking the time to comment!
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:iconveturaeros:
veturaeros Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2013
I'm actually having a lot of difficulty naming one of my characters (and this is very rare for me) so this was very insightful!
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
:D i'm glad i could provide some help then!
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:iconrainbow-marbles:
Rainbow-Marbles Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2013  Student Digital Artist
Ohh I love this guide :D I already use most of these tricks, but there are a few I hadn't thought of, thank you :D I've actually been wondering about something on the topic of names starting with the same letter: if the names of my two main characters kiiiind of rhyme/sound similar, would it be annoying to the reader? I didn't have a problem with it for the first 20 000 words but now I'm starting to wonder. Their names are Owen and Megan (I often call her Meg though).
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
I think those are dissimilar enough not to matter. It's only an issue when you get names like Jane & Jason (same starting sound) or Aiden & Hayden. (whole name sounds similar).
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:iconrainbow-marbles:
Rainbow-Marbles Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2013  Student Digital Artist
Thanks :D I wasn't sure how much similarity would be ok between names :)
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:iconvedisdragon:
vedisdragon Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
On the part of subtlety-
I agree that "Raven Darkwood" sounds quite over the top, but sometimes names, especially in cartoons, actually fail like that. XD Usually they're kids shows like Danny Phantom where everything has t be a little obvious, because, well, they're kids. For example, there was an evil character called Pariah Dark. Not to mention a villain who could control electronics called Technus.
Very useful guide, though! Just wish I'd seen this before I named my OCs. XD
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:icondarlingmionette:
DarlingMionette Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
haha I was just thinking about that this morning actually. Deffinitely kids' literature would be an exception to the naming rule... most children would actually prefer a silly name... but for most adult / ya fiction, you want to stick to the basics ^^
Reply
:iconanimegirl007:
animegirl007 Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2013
Good tips :nod: Thanks!
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