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Naming the characters in your screenplay can be a difficult process.There are countless factors to consider, and the wrong name can completely change the tone of a character. Here are a few tactics that can help you find fitting names for your characters.
Tactic One: Consider the Time Period
When choosing the name of your character, always keep in mind the historical context. For example, if you were writing a screenplay about a Roman gladiator, you wouldn’t give him a modern name like “Jaden.” Rather, hone in on a bank of popular names during Roman times to find a name that aligns with your desired time and place.
Tactic Two: Use the Setting to Your Advantage
This tactic applies more to the science-fiction and fantasy genres, because within these genres it is typical to be named after elements in the world. For example, if writing about a world where magic exists, you might name a witch “Aura” to signify the supernatural radiation that surrounds the character. Or a wizard could be called “Gadlr,” which is the Norse word for incantation.
Tactic Three: Allusion
This may seem like cheating, but if you wrote a character who is similar to another character from a classic novel or play, you could simply give them the same name, or some sort of variation. For example, if I wrote about a young girl who was given a large sum of money from a random person, pulling her into the upper class, I might name her “Piper”—a nod to Pip from the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations. This is by far my favorite tactic because it is a cheap way to add depth and sense of culture to your character. Iconic characters bring powerful associations to mind.
Tactic Four: Significance
Most names have some meaning behind them. With the help of a baby-naming book, or even just a search engine, we can find a name that will be suitable to describe a character. All you have to do is find a name that fits a major personality trait or plot point for the character. For example, consider conducting online searches, I could Google “names that have evil meanings” or “evil names” or even “cunning names,” to find the perfect name to fit that character.
Tactic Five: Lost in Translation
Explore other languages. Following the same formula as tactic four, but instead of typing into a search engine “personality trait + names” you could go to a translation website and type in the trait in English, then see if the word in another language seems like a fitting name for your character. For example, if I were writing about a beautiful young martyr who will save her country, I might name her “Esperanza,” which means “hope” in Spanish. However, if I were to name the evil person who will kill her and change the history of the nation, I might name him “Shahin,” which means “falcon” in Arabic — a bird of prey. But also, the name Shahin carries the meaning of the “first light in the world.” Again, similar to allusion, this tactic can easily add layers of meaning to the name of any character.
Tactic Six: Your Surroundings
If you know someone whose name you think defines them perfectly and they are similar to your character, perhaps it makes sense to give your character the same (or similar) name. However, if the character’s story lines up a little too well with that person’s real life, they very well may hunt you down with their lawyer. Therefore it would be in your best interest to name them simply based off their personality and absolutely nothing else, not even appearance.
Hopefully these tips have given you new processes to help you name the characters you have created in your screenplay. MM
This post originally appeared on the blog ScreenCraft. ScreenCraft is dedicated to helping screenwriters and filmmakers succeed through educational events, screenwriting competitions and the annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship program, connecting screenwriters with agents, managers and Hollywood producers. Follow ScreenCraft on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.