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Something to Think About When Naming Characters

(from your editor who loves you)

by Deb Werksman
Editorial Manager
Sourcebooks Casablanca

I’m noticing lately that variations on the same or similar names for two different characters (Hal and Henry, Elyne and Eileen, Greg and Eric).
These names are both visually similar and evocatively similar, which causes reader confusion even when the characters are distinct. The human eye “fills in” the letters, so that we read words in chunks. In addition, we’re often “reading aloud” to ourselves in our head (silently). When two names pop off the page (or into the eye and the mind) alike, the reader has to slow down to think about what she’s reading, and that pulls her out of the story.
So, here are some guidelines:
  1. Use a distinct name for every character
  2. Start every name in the book with a different letter 
  3. Make sure names are not variables or derivatives of the same name
  4. Try for names that are different lengths/syllable counts/vowel sounds
  5. Make sure names with the same number of letters or syllables do not also share the same vowel sound
Recommended resource (if I may be so bold): THE COMPLETE BOOK OF BABY NAMES


  1. Names are my total downfall. :) I use The Writer's Digest Character-Naming Sourcebook, but that doesn't mean I stay out of trouble all the time! :)

  2. Guilty as charged...will work on doing much better!

  3. I wouldn't have thought of Greg and Eric as being similar, but if it throws one reader off, it can throw another off.


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