Friday, September 17, 2010


Personally, I’m usually very picky about names. I have a knowledgeable acquaintance in the cyber-net, Karl Schmieder who specializes in suggesting names for corporate entities and products (Messaging Lab).

I sometimes resort to telephone directories or newspapers to invent the right names for characters in my screenplay. For me it has to have a perfect blend on the nature, context, looks, objective and physicality of the character, because the first contact the reader of the screenplay has with the characters is most probably their name, and the right names give out signals to the reader about the personality of your characters.

From my experience I tell you, keep the names of the main characters simple, save more unusual names for secondary characters. For instance ‘Vijay’ is an ‘everyman’ name, whereas Gabbar Singh can suggest he is an evil character. Try to make the name suit the kind of person you visualize.

Names like Sagar, Vinay, Anand, Gautham, Mike,  Dave, Bill and Tom suggest rugged, reliable people; Meera, Sindhu, Geetha, Shalini, Elaine, Fleur and Colette sound feminine; but may not suit for a tomboy – may be  Jill, Jane or Veda, Daksh or Manu may suit those type characters.

Use long names for grand people – three syllable names are impressive: Raghvendra, Bharathveer, Anupamkher, Bernadette, Beverley, Daniella and Griselda for example.

For eccentric characters you can use your imagination and call them something unusual like: Thrivikraman, Myilvahanan, Karimughi, Farnsworth, or Tarkington.

Would you have been so riveted by ‘Gone with the Wind’ had Margaret Mitchell stuck to her original idea and called her heroine Pansy? I think not: Scarlett O’Hara is the perfect name for her.

An excellent resource for finding names (English) is The Guinness Book of Names by Leslie Dunkling, published by Guinness (currently out of print). This not only gives you first names and tells you when they were popular (useful for books set in the past), but also gives you surnames, names for pets, houses, pubs, streets and many other things. There are also several good sites you can consult on the Internet.

· is an American site.

· has a huge selection of names from all around the world grouped under relevant countries, very useful for foreign characters.

· is a wacky site that discusses really strange names chosen by parents for their children. Many of these unusual names would be good for fantasy and fairy tale characters.

Using names in your story

• Don’t have two characters in your story with names beginning with the same letter: this can lead to confusion, even if you vary the number of syllables. If you have Rosy and Ruby or Vijay and Vinay in the same scene, you can easily muddle the reader.

• If you have a foreign character, don’t use the first name that comes to mind. Instead of calling a French boy Jean Pierre, call him Antoine or Charlot, genuine French names, but less obvious and therefore more striking. Avoid using names that are the same or similar for boys and girls such as Manu, Chinnu, Chellam, Hilary, Evelyn or Francis/Frances. Nick names can be confusing too – calling Samantha ‘Sam’ or Frederica ‘Freddie’ or both Vijayalakshmi and Vijay as Viji. Of course, you might do it on purpose to hide the gender of a character, but it is dangerous in stories for some readers for whom such a ploy may be too subtle.

• Vary the number of syllables in your cast of characters. Don’t give them all monosyllabic names such as Fred, Alf and Joe, Var, Kish or Bhu. Instead go for Fred, Adrian and Jonathan, Varadhan, Krishna or Bhuvan.


These need careful choosing too. They can indicate ethnic origin and status.

• Short, single syllable names like Smith, Brown and Jones are so universal that you can use them for anybody, but if you were to add a three syllable name and a hyphen, and make Varadraja-Mudaliar, it becomes a much grander name.

• Names that used to denote trades like Webster, Baker, Potter, and Gardener or Soni, Panicker, Chaywalla no longer have that connotation and can safely be used for any class of person.

• If you are looking for a name for a villain, think of words that start with a harsh combination of consonants – (for Indian names) such as Bha, Dha, Gha, Jha, and for English names such as Snagge, Scrivens or Skelton, Skelton might make people think of skeleton which is another good reason for using it. Bhagath Ghanvar can be an apt name for a villain in the Indian context.

If you are stuck for surnames, use the names of places such as Gogulpur, Dharvar, Worthing, Hastings or Guildford. Some village names that consist of two words make splendid double-barreled names – Chella-kottai, Alaga-Puri, Orton Goldhay, Stow Bedon and Barton Mills.

Choosing names for fantasy characters

• Don’t make them hard to pronounce, this is a stumbling block for a common reader.

• Don’t make them laughable unless it is a comedy.

• Take an ordinary name and change a letter or a syllable to make it different. Manu can be Manuja, Himanshu can be Himnu, Basil can become Baskil, Eric can become Erk, and so on.

Don’t give a character from the future a name like INXKR, which no one can
pronounce or is likely to remember.

• Fairy tale characters can have names as fanciful as you please.

(To be continued . . .)


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