November 2, 2017

Giving Your Characters a Name

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

From To Kill A Mockingbirds Atticus Finch to The Legend of Sleepy Hollows Ichabod Crane character names tend to stick with you. Naming them can be a challenge. Being the responsibility of the author it is important you choose wisely. These names will stick and how well they stick is up to the name you give them. Let’s look at these names and how they came about.

The character of Ichabod Crane was based on the Kinderhook schoolmaster by the name of Jesse Merwin.  Although the character was based on the schoolmaster the name Ichabod is of course a Biblical name but the name Ichabod Crane was the name of an Army Colonel Irving had met in Sackets Harbor, New York in 1814. Both Merwin and Colonel Crane were said to be friends of Irving. No doubt both impressed the author so that he combined their character and name to create one of American Literature’s most memorable characters.

The origin of the name Atticus Finch was best known as the Roman philosopher Titus Pomponius Atticus. Although the name is not uncommon in the Southern United States it’s seldom seen. The character was based on Harper Lee’s father, an Alabama lawyer who like Finch represented black defendants. Lee saw her father as a hero so who better to base her hero on than her father.  Book Magazine’s list of The 100 Best Character Names in Fiction since 1900 names Atticus Finch as the Seventh best fictional character of 20th-century literature. Gregory Peck brought more fame to Atticus Finch in the 1962 film adaptation with an Academy Award performance. In 2003 the American Film Institute voted Atticus Finch as the greatest hero of all American cinema. Great job Harper Lee!

If you run into concerns when naming your character you may want to consult with a study of names, their connotation and possible effect on individuals throughout their life. Studies say a good name is a simple name. There is the idea that names play a role in determining our career. This is known as nominative determinism. It is explained as implicit egotism which states humans have an unconscious preference for things they associate with themselves. The more the character’s name has in association with your readers the more connection there will be.

Look into naming your character by Googling naming characters. There is an endless amount of information ranging from consideration of ethnicity to fantasy names. A lot of the times you will want to research the name and its origin. Like so many things what’s old is new again. Whether you have an attorney named Atticus or a school teacher named Ichabod they will need to be carried by a good story. The combination of a good story and a good character name is a winning combo. When naming your character give it some thought.                       


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