On Hugos and Nebulas, Part 8: You Name It

Names. Ugh. Sometimes the hardest part about writing is finding a suitable name for each characters. Complicating things are the ever-present rules.

  • Not too long.
  • Not too complex.
  • Easy to recognize.
  • Pronounceable.
  • Don’t repeat initial sounds for 2 or more characters on the same story.
  • Don’t rhyme.
  • Be consistent-no nicknames.
  • And on and on, and ON …

One beta reader even admonished me to avoid repeating similar-sounding names between unrelated books. Apparently, no one filled in the Hugo and Nebula writers on all the naming rules, or else, the vast majority of these writers served up a Bronx cheer for a response. Every single rule I listed was mercilessly violated by one or more of the books in the challenge.

That puts me in good company, really. Even considering just my published works. I’ve laid waste to many of the name rules. I don’t mean to suggest that you can or should totally disregard the naming rules. They’re there for a reason but if you’re going to break them, consider them in light of your story and decide whether your rule-breaking is for a good cause. Ringworld‘s excruciatingly long name for one character emphasized her alien-ness. Dune‘s multiple names for one guy reflected how he changed as the story progressed. Some writers intentionally give different characters similar names to show how similar the characters are.

Like most of these rules, if you’re going to break the rule, do so for a good reason and make sure you don’t confuse the reader.


4 thoughts on “On Hugos and Nebulas, Part 8: You Name It

  1. Ha! Love this. Sometimes I stress about these kinds of rules, and then I remember…I’ve read books that violated all kinds of rules, and some of them were VERY popular. If the story is good, nobody’s going to care. 🙂


    • Yes, most of The Rules do serve some kind of useful purpose, but they can either work for the story or against it. Rigid adherence to The Rules usually results in a stilted, convoluted, and ultimately uninteresting story.

      As you say, there are very skillfully done examples that break The Rules.


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