Tips on naming a character

14-07-16 Writer 0 comment

  1. Some authors use given names to provide the reader an idea of the role the character will play in the story. In Rayuela, by Julio Cortázar, the main feminine character is named Lucía but the author calls her la Maga. The rest of the characters call her the same but in their everyday dialogues some of them call her by her given name. It is noticed how the author can build the story as part of reality so he might be closer or not to some characters and react to them the same way they react to him. The character which Cortázar calls la Maga actually has some features that we might think as magical, there is a certain mystery around her; when the reader finds this character, he already has an idea of what might come later. Other formulas are more straightforward: Kafka, obsessed by the subject of the relationship of men with power, names his characters just the guardian or the judge. With Kafka there are peculiar situations: a recurring character in his writing is called just K -the first letter of the author’s last name-; in a certain story, Kafka named his characters with mathematical variables: A and B.
  2. Many writers use very simple names for their characters at first: Juan, José, Pedro. Others, spoiled by soap operas, give them “Casanova” names: Víctor Jesús, Luis Rafael, Juan Augusto. Even when we have said that this field can be completely theoretical, it is necessary for a character’s name to add credibility to the story. Nothing forbids for a character to be named John Smith, but it is likely that such a name will not cause a positive impression in the reader. Many authors solve this problem by using common but unlikely names: the main masculine character in Rayuela is Horacio Oliveira; some characters in A Hundred Years of Solitude (Cien Años de Soledad) are José Arcadio, Aureliano, Úrsula. Maybe García Márquez could have used José Sinforoso instead of José Arcadio to name his mythological heroes but it is true that the chosen names are more resounding and this certainly helps the reader to think of these characters as real beings.