Six Tips For Naming Characters: What’s in a Name?


One of the fun things to do when writing stories or novels is to name characters. Especially important are the names of the main characters, but secondary and incidental characters can be just as thought-provoking to enhance your story. Occasionally a name pops up that is so perfect as a character that you just have to flow with it. But at other times it becomes difficult to fit the name to the character you have in mind.  It is important to fit the name to the era, the setting and the country. I mean you wouldn’t want to name a Midwestern shop lady in the eighteen hundred’s ‘Lady Felicity’ would you? Here are six tips I have used to come up with character names.

  1. Build a list of interesting names. Always a good place to start is from a list you have compiled. Some writers use index cards for this purpose, a name jar, or just a document that lists interesting first and last names. There are many, many places that you can find interesting names. J K Rowling stated she roamed cemeteries to find great names for the characters she named in the Harry Potter series. Another method used by some writers is to pay attention to the credits at the end of movies to glean names. Be creative, but careful, when using full names from these sources.
  2. Use people’s names that you know. If you use someone ‘s full name that you know, make sure and ask them if they mind being a five-year-old wild child in your next story! You can always tweak a person’s name such as using your Aunt’s first name with a cousin’s husband’s surname.
  3. Use alliterative first initials. Having names that have the same first sound intensifies the name and makes it memorable. Using ‘S’ sounds such as Severus Snape makes the name sound dangerous like the hiss of a snake. Using ‘H’ or ‘E’ sounds like Edward Elric can be softer and lower key. Names that begin with ‘P’ or ‘B’ are percussive like Peter Piper. These names tend to grab the attention of the reader.
  4. Say the names out loud. You may think the name quite imaginative, but if the reader finds the name impossible to pronounce, they may find engagement with the character difficult. One writer pointed out that if your story is to be read out loud such as an audible book or at a reading, a difficult name to pronounce could disrupt the flow of reading.
  5. Create names from things around you like street names or businesses. Maps can be a wonderful source for providing names of towns or streets. Combining Blackfriar Road, with that of a book designer, Nigel Partridge (a great name in and of itself), the character for a detective story becomes Nigel Blackfriar.
  6. Check your names! Even though we think we have come up with an unusual name, it could be someone famous, infamous, or a person who is in the same profession as your character. More than once I have had to change doctor’s names because I have Googled the name and found I have chosen a practicing physician. So make sure to check the names you chose.

What’s in a name? All sorts of fun, underlying thought when it comes to naming fictional characters. What are some of the methods you use to name characters? Please share with everyone in the comments below.

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