How to Name a Character by Emily Austin.

Unlike naming a baby, characters in fiction can be given names that might prompt school yard bullying or put them at a disadvantage professionally. Writers can name a character Sylvester without considering which words rhyme with it, or whether their mother will hate it.

The main character in my book, Everyone in This Room Will Someday be Dead is named Gilda. She is a morbidly anxious young woman who stumbles into a job as a receptionist for a Catholic church. There she hides her atheist lesbian identity and becomes obsessed with her predecessor’s mysterious death. I named her, and the other characters in her story, using the tips below.

Ask people for the names of their enemies

When naming an unlikable, villainous character, survey the folks around you for the names of their adversaries. I was raised Catholic and as a by-product, I am burdened with constant incurable guilt. This results in me worrying when I name a disagreeable character. I fret, what if this is someone’s beloved grandpas name? To lessen that guilt, I ask people for the names of their enemies to ensure that at least one Giuseppe deserves it.

Nod at the people you know

When naming someone who rips their pants, trips on a banana peel, or calls their teacher “mommy”, I endorse using your family member’s names. When writing a fictional obituary, kill your friends. If they read it, the mention might make them feel special, and if they don’t—you will know you can use their name in future works without restraint.

Plug your pets

Why write a book if you are not going to immortalise your furry, feathered, scaley (or whatever other texture pets come in) friend in it? Every time I can mention my precious Siamese cat Lou in a story, I do. Catch her around page 91 of my book.

Steal dead people’s names

If you, like me, are riddled with anxiety and can’t just go for a walk without doing something productive at the same time, go for your stroll in a cemetery. Check out the smorgasbord of names etched into the stones. On my most recent cemetery walk I saw the surnames: Bonefat, Butts, and Turkey.

Emily Austin was born in Ontario, Canada. She studied English literature and library science at Western University. She currently lives in Ottawa.

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