WHAT NOT TO DO WHEN NAMING CHARACTERS
"Why do YA heroines always have strange names, while everyone else has normal names?" My 17-yr-old daughter had a great point.
I recently had been judging a contest. One of my entries was a YA. Sure enough the heroine had a crazy name. Everyone else -- Bob, Sue, Tom. What made it worse was the heroine and her BFF had names so similar . . . I had to stop reading during their scenes together. Milly said this. Lilly said that. Ugh.
Character Naming Think-Twice-About-Doing
1) Unpronounceable Names
In this day and age, we can get away with odd names as long as the reader can figure out how to pronouce. Katniss, anyone? If one of your beta readers or critique partners questions a name choice, then you may want to change that name.
2) Similar Names
Ever seen that word test on Facebook where certain letters are removed yet you can still read the sentence? I have. The human brain is fascinating in how it can do this. Yet that ability causes may reader a problem when the brain sees J and immeditately thinks Jenny, your heroine's name. But name is Jenks, you villain.
That's not to say you can't have more than one character with a J-name. Be cautious about using one letter to carry too many names. Same goes with sound. Jenny, Bennie, Denney, or any variation of the "ee" sound at the end of the name can be confusing to the reader.
3) Time-Period Appropriate
I was re-reading a novel by one of my favorite historical authors. The name she'd chosen for the heroine didn't "sound" right for an English female in mid-1800s. I searched the book for an explanation of how she came about the name, but there wasn't one.
4) Popular Names
One year I judged a contest where three of my four entries had heroines named Cat/Kat. Obviously her name was shortened for Catherine or some derivative. Go to http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames. It will list the most popular names dating all the way back to 1880.
I swear if I pick up a book and the heroine is named Cat or Sam, I put the book back. The book could be amazing, but I refuse to read it. But if you do chose to call your lead(s) by a nickname, please be consistent and don't use more than one. All goes back to don't confuse your reader. If you're going to use a nickname predominantly for a character, then introduce the character by that name.
We first know him as Strider. Then we learn he is Aragorn, son of Arathorn. By the end of the third boook, he is King Elessar.