Peggy Bechko’s World of Character Names

by Peggy Bechko

Writing a script? A novel? A short story?

Then you have characters who need names, and not just any name, but a name that sticks, a name that echoes, a name that sounds good coming from an actor’s lips or on the pages of a script or manuscript. So, as with most everything, there’s a good side and a bad side.

The good side – you’re god when it comes to your story. You’re the one who creates the characters and tags them with the names that will stay with them…and with you throughout the process of writing said script or novel. Yay!?

The bad side – well, this can be a tough process. I mean what if you name a character Sally and she’s really an Imogene? Or a Charlie turns out to be a Theodore? The simple reality is that what may ‘sound’ good to you when you write it on the page might come across entirely differently to a reader or when an actor speaks the name.

As a writer, it’s important for you to choose a name appropriate to character and provides the best read…and listen for readers and audiences.

Here are a few simple tips to consider when determining a character’s name. First consider the alphabet. Yep, A through Z. If you name your main character Zelda then naming her side-kick Zed isn’t a good idea. Let’s not have Fred and Fredda either. Here’s why. In the beginning, the reader reading your script or manuscript is doing it fast, skimming, reading for content. You don’t want names tripping them out as that reader tries to keep your characters sorted out.

You might also plant the idea in your brain that it’s a good idea to avoid names that are androgynous. Why? For a script you want the reader to identify your characters clearly from the outset. For a manuscript you don’t want the editor going back and forth through the paragraphs to sort out who is who. So unless that particular name is an absolute must because of the story line, avoid names like ‘Pat’, “Jean’, “Robin’, Casey, Bobbie and others that could confuse the reader.

Think about your setting and the context of the story. Character names can tell us something about the character’s personality and ideally add some depth to the story. Think about stories you’ve read and movies you’ve seen. Have the names fit and perhaps even subconsciously touched a note for you? For example. The recent film, Passengers. The main character was Jim Preston. A straight-forward, down to earth name. The woman he awakens is Aurora Lane. That name hints at more. It brings lots of things to mind. It’s the Roman goddess of sunrise who’s tears turned into morning dew. It was also the name of Sleeping Beauty and it’s the scientific term for the Northern Light. This hints at a more complicated character.
And the bartending Android is simply Arthur. One name. One location. A friendly and simple name.

What I’m getting at is the meaning behind the character’s name can add a lot of personality. And, because of the ebb and flow of time and corresponding names it can even give an idea of the time in which the story is set and the location. That’s helpful for period pieces, space operas and the like. You can even consider calling characters by their last name alone if that tells the reader/watcher something about that character.

Finally, the more memorable the name of the main characters, the more memorable the movie or book and the more likely people are going to talk to their friends about it. Think about the last couple of books you read and movies you’ve seen – do you remember the name of the main character?

Character names are not just ‘labels’ hung on those moving elements of your script or story. Hook your readers and movie goers in all ways … and names are just one of them.

Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.