That names for your characters in your novels is much like picking a name for your baby. Your people are your voice in the story. Choose wisely, my friends. As a person who grew up with a name that is 90% of the time pronounced differently than I do, names are important.
The internet is a wonderful thing for writers. If you need to know something all you have to do is ask a question. That really comes in handy if you are trying to write a novel and come up with names for your characters.
For example, say you’re writing a mystery novel set in the late1940s. Your characters might have born in 1920. By asking the net what the most common names in that era was you will get a great list, starting with Robert, John, James as you might expect. For women when you ask that question you’d get Mary, Dorothy and Helen. If you go to the middle of that list you get into less used names like Chester, Alvin, Harry and for women Marion, Wilma and Bertha. Those last names would be more likely to have a nickname, which is handy for giving a character more dimension.
If you are writing about a family history you usually don’t have to make up names. The only time is if you’re trying to write the history in a novel style under the heading of “based on a true story,” type thing.
If you are writing about a living person and naming them, please get their permission to do so. I emailed the author of that novel I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs and got his permission to mention his name and his book. (Hope you read it–was very interesting style of writing and a good read.) It’s so easy to contact each other now with the social media we have.
We can’t help but write about situations we know of. For example, we may of known of a nasty divorce between our friends, Mary and John Smith, and we want to add some of the elements of that situation to intensify our novel. We sure wouldn’t want to name our characters Marion and Jack Smithson, way too close. And we wouldn’t want to make known to the whole world explicit details that only the Smiths would know. That’s a fine line to follow and needs to be done with care, thought and kindness.
Sometimes you run across a novel and the author has chosen names that are hard to pronounce, at least in our western culture. As an example something like Javoszia Baranauskas would take most of us who are not Lithuanian a few seconds to figure out. It makes you kind of stop reading the work. I find that anything that stops the flow of the reading takes a little time for me to refocus on the story. It’s enough to make some people lose interest at that point.
Whatever you write, best of luck with making your work fun and creative!