Take a look at this list of characters below:
- Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald)
- Huckleberry Finn (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain)
- Veruca Salt (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl)
- Dorian Gray (The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde)
- Humbert Humbert (Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov)
- Uriah Heep (David Copperfield, Charles Dickens)
- Atticus Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee)
- Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote)
- Oedipa Maas (The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon)
- J. Alfred Prufrock (The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, T.S. Eliot)
What stands out immediately is the uniqueness of their names. Coming up a compelling character name is part of the battle of character invention. It will say something about them by either sounding strong and commanding, abrasive and unpleasant, or perhaps reticent and meek. Think of a great name and people will remember it and want to find out more about them.
Charles Dickens was the master of this. Beside the aforementioned Uriah Heep, his books were populated with fantastically named characters such as Sissy Jupe (Hard Times), Bill Sikes (Oliver Twist), Wilkins Micawber (David Copperfield), Jennie Wren (Our Mutal Friend), Polly Toodle (Dombey and Son), Lucretia Tox (Dombey and Son), and of course Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol).
Martin Amis is the most obvious modern equivalent for inventing equally satirical names with the likes of John Self (Money), Keith Talent (London Fields), Charles Highway (The Rachel Papers), Terence Service (Success), Mary Lamb (Other People), and Violet Nearing (The Pregnant Widow), to name a few.
Some writers may prefer to think about the biography of the character first and then come up with a name that matches the personality. My usual method is to come up with a name and then think about who this person may be. But thinking up great names is not easy. I usually trawl lists of first names and surnames to see what works. But this often leaves me with a rather ordinary sounding name.
However, taking inspiration from these brilliant names above, I decided to pair real first names with nouns as an experiment to see what I would get.
Remember it’s your own invented world, you can name your characters whatever you like. Just make them compelling.
A list of names generated from random lists of first names and nouns.
- Isabel Quince
- Kara Corn
- Miranda Motion
- Jean Start
- Carina Balance
- Elaine Song
- Emmalee Jar
- Joyce Limit
- Zachariah Bells
- Izaiah Quill
- Elijah Sugar
- Kamari Bee
Any there that grab your attention? Do you have any preferred method of thinking up names? Do you have any favourite character names? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
Featured image via Pinterest.