Naming Characters, By Maria V. Snyder

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I always have fun when naming my characters (and no one else can argue about it - unlike with my children - can you believe my husband wanted a say??). I own 5 baby name books, and am frequently on the Social Security website, checking out popular names. Other good sites are:,, and

My favorite book is From Aaron to Zoe, 15,000 Great Baby Names, by Daniel Avram Richman. I also use the phone book and take note of everyone's name tags at restaurants, hotels, airports - you see some interesting names (I always try and ask the person what their name means). Even newspapers, magazines, and books can yield a perfect character name.

One of my requirements when choosing a name is to find one that has a special meaning. My main protagonist in Poison Study, Yelena is a Russian name and it means "shining one" which I thought appropriate since she starts out in a dungeon awaiting execution. Her situation is dire, but she still shines. My assassin/chief of security's name is Valek. I always liked Val Kilmer in the movie Top Gun - so Valek is a composite of him.

Some names I do make up :) For Magic Study, I wanted the Sitian people to have earthy names so I chose Fern, Irys, Roze, Leif - I also seem to like jewel names - Perl, Topaz, Garnet. One of the characters is, Cahil which means inexperienced (so that should give you a hint about his personality).

When I'm starting a novel, I'll decide what the theme is or the overall feeling of the novel. Then I'll comb through my baby books and write a list of names both male and female that fit into the theme. For Storm Glass, I wanted powerful names and ones that had meanings about the sun, wind and rain, so my list included Kade (powerful), Raiden (thunder god), Nodin (wind), Aydan (little fire - he's my glass maker), and Ulrick (ruler of all). All these names are listed in the baby book and they were so fun to find!

I know there are writing books available about naming your characters. Also when deciding on names, I try and avoid weird spellings and unpronounceable names, basically because I don't like it when I'm reading a book - it stops me dead as I try and figure out how to pronounce them (guess I shouldn't of daydreamed when my class was learning about phonics in 6th grade!).

And sometimes, my editor makes me change a name. In Magic Study I had Gale (Tula's sister) and Goel (bad dude) and she said I had to change one because they were too close and could confuse the reader. So I changed Gale to Opal and then used the name Gale in Fire Study since Goel didn''t in that book.

And sometimes I use a reader’s name. Someone I’ve been emailing who has an interesting name, or someone who has helped me out. I usually don’t tell them they’re in the book, I wait for the excited email when the book comes out.

My son also pointed out to me that I prefer short names, which I hadn't realized, but when I thought about it - is very true. Guess I don't like typing long names!

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