by Bryan Patrick Avery
When I first auditioned to join the Society of American Magicians, I was asked what name I would perform under. I had honestly never given much thought to a “stage name.” It was then that I received some advice that I’ve never forgotten: The name isn’t important. People won’t remember or forget you because of your name. They’ll remember or forget you because of how you made them feel.
I think about that when I create characters for my books. This month, I’ll share three tips and tricks for coming up with memorable character names.
Tip #1 – Start with a character sketch.
In 2020, I started the first four books of the early chapter book series, MR. GRIZLEY’S CLASS. Because the books take place in a second-grade classroom, I needed to create a classroom full of kids, twenty in all. I’ve never been great at creating names for characters, so this took a while.
I started making a list of names from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities but still struggled to decide on what to name my characters Then, I remembered the advice I mentioned above. Instead of worry about names, I decided to start by creating sketches of my characters, then give them names.
Here’s an example (I added the name later):
“Mordecai Foster (MORDECAI’S MAGIC)
Mordecai is the newest student in Mr. Grisley’s class. He and his family recently moved into town when his father, an Air Force Colonel, was transferred to the nearby base.
Mordecai is the oldest of three kids. He received a magic set for his birthday two years ago and has quickly become an adept magician, entertaining his siblings, and even performing for parties in front of large groups. He enjoys the spotlight but isn’t consumed by it.
Mordecai’s family is never in one place for very long and he sometimes struggles to make friends. He hopes that magic may help him make friends in Mr. Grisley’s class.
What does Mordecai want? To share the wonder and joy magic gives him with others.
Mordecai is African American. He is short and stocky with, thanks to his father, a military haircut. As a magician, he believes that he should look the part, so he is typically dressed in a tuxedo with color-coordinated bow tie and cummerbund. His tennis shoes, also color-coordinated, complete the ensemble.”
I did this for all the kids in the class. Once I had the character sketch done, it was easier for me to name him and begin thinking of him as Mordecai.
So, once you’re ready to name you characters, what are some good sources for names?
Tip #2 – Let your family and friends inspire you.
This can be tricky, but I like to use names of family and friends (particularly young readers) in my books. I never use their full names (for privacy, of course) but it’s been fun delivering books to young people and seeing their faces light up when they see their name is one of the characters. I’ve even taken the opportunity to add the names of friends to my books. In SOCCER SUSPICIONS, for example, the main character is named after my cousin's daughter.
What if you run out of names of family and friends? See tip #3.
Tip #3 – Use the internet.
If you’re looking for a name for a character with a certain ethnic background or from a particular historical period, a simple internet search might help. You can search for the most popular boy names from 1980 (spoiler alert, Michael wins), common Creole names, or whatever else you need. I often print out the lists to keep around for future reference, just in case.
Naming you characters can be fun, but also a daunting task. I hope this makes the process a little easier, and a bit more fun.
That’s all for this month. Happy writing and have a magical month.
At the age of 7, Bryan Patrick Avery discovered a love of reading and mysteries after receiving his first Bobbsey Twins Mystery book. Today, he is an award-winning poet and author of more than a dozen books for children. His middle-grade story, “The Magic Day Mystery”, appears in SUPER PUZZLETASTIC MYSTERIES, an anthology from HarperCollins and the Mystery Writers of America. His Jake Maddox JV Mysteries, OFF BASE and SOCCER SUSPICIONS were released earlier this year by Stone Arch Books. Bryan is the 2021 recipient of the SCBWI Work in Progress Award for his chapter book mystery THE ROBOT IN THE LIBRARY. He is also the author of THE FREEMAN FIELD PHOTOGRAPH, BLACK MEN IN SCIENCE, and the chapter book series, MR. GRIZLEY’S CLASS.
Bryan serves on the board of directors of the Northern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. He lives in Northern California with his family.
We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome new bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with editor/art director, & CBA Director Mira Reisberg PhD who is handing her Mondays over to awesome former now tradtionally pubbed students to widen their audience.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays feature funny Aussie author Sharon Giltrow sharing awesome Aussie books.
And 5th Mondays will feature Libyan American author Koloud Tarapolsi sharing wonderful diverse books.