George Wickham. Lucious Malfoy. Simon Legree.

If you are familiar with the works of Jane Austen, J.K. Rowling, or Harriet Beecher Stowe, you know that George Wickham, Lucious Malfoy, and Simon Legree are some despicable dudes. Not only are they horrible people, but their names even sound wicked, too. (Go ahead:  say the names out loud. See what I mean?!)

Choosing a name for a fictional character is not as easy as you may think. The sound of the name and the feel of the spoken word in your mouth, positive or negative cultural associations (think of Judas or Jezebel), even family or fraternal relationships – these all influence our reaction to a particular name. Furthermore, a carefully chosen name for a fictional character can give the reader clues about the character’s personal history, vocation, or destiny. A name can also contribute clarity, a touch of mystery, or a dash of the exotic to a story, and certain names may be used to help anchor a story in a specific time period or place.

Next time you pick up a book and start reading about your favorite characters, or next time you sit down at the keyboard to work on your latest manuscript, take a moment to consider, “What’s in a name?”

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