What’s in a Name: How to Pick the Perfect Name for Your Characters

To quote Shakespeare:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Boy, was he wrong! The idea was sentimental though. Today, we all know that names are extremely important because they’re how we associate and identify people. We even build our assumptions around names–assumptions we’ve socially molded into stereotypes that seem to stick around like old gum on new furniture.

When we see names on paper–on a resume, a test, or the cover of a book–they bring these assumptions, racial perceptions, and personality traits with them. Or, maybe not. Maybe it’s all just madness spewing from overly superstitious mouths that believe a name decides one’s destiny.

Is Harriet really an “old lady name“, like Dorothy or Maude?  Or did the researchers at MIT have it right? They conducted a study suggesting that white sounding names on resumes resulted in 50% more callbacks than those with more ethnic–specifically black or African American–connotations.

To read the university study, you can access the formal essay titled, “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination” here.  You can also access it through the Social Science Research Network website.

Regardless of how important or unimportant you believe names are, it’s an important part of your character’s journey. It’s the name your readers will call them by and the name they will use to identify your character. It’s the name that will be used to market your story to others. Memorable sometimes does mean different. Harry Potter is a household name together, but not apart, and we all know who Katniss is at the slightest drop of the name.

Here are my favorite name generating sites to help:

Random Name Generator

Be a Better Writer Creative Name Generator

Seventh Sanctum: an excellent site for the out of the ordinary name.  This one is my personal favorite.

 Visit The Baby Name Genie if you’re looking for a great name to match a last name.

Happy writing!


One Comment

  1. Maggie says:

    Maybe they should somehow redact the names on resumes so there’s no bias based on someone’s name. May the most qualified candidate win!

    Liked by 1 person

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