Naming Characters


Pre-Nanowrimo: I finally have the skeleton of a story coming to life in my mind, and it’s about time. There’s less than a week to go until Nanowrimo starts (for those of us in Australia, at least). Now that I have some rough ideas finally taking shape, I’ve spent the afternoon scouring a baby name book and my favourite name etymology website Behind The Name to start compiling a list of possible character names. I like to make a note of the usual gender assignation, meaning and ethnic origin of the name. I try to make a list of twenty or so names that will be able to be used for not only characters but places, too, as a starting point. I find that I will often choose names with similar cultural origins. I particularly like the ancient European names, but sometimes also uncover names in other cultures that work in my stories.

This habit goes back to when I was pretty young. We had an old dictionary set from the 1960s, presumably left behind by my great grandparents who had lived in the house before my parents bought it. It was called The Reader’s Digest Great Australian Encyclopaedic Dictionary in Three Volumes and it had a chapter of Indigenous Australian words from different language groups, and old fashioned given names with their origins – usually Anglo-Saxon, in this case. It was a very Anglo-Australian-centric book, from memory. I loved the Indigenous words, and as a young child I would use them as character names. Then I read The Silver Brumby series of novels and realised that author Elyne Mitchell also used Indigenous words for many of the horse characters in her stories.

I guess the habit of exploring words and using real names for story characters has stuck with me. The interest in Indigenous cultures also stuck – I was privileged to take some classes at university in around 2010 and 2011 about the history and politics of Indigenous Australia. (And what an eye-opener that was!)