Tips and Tricks to Naming Characters

Carelessly named characters are the first thing that pull me out of a novel’s narrative. I’ve put down several books in my lifetime because the name of the protagonist doesn’t make sense in the context of the story.
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In fact, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Google “Does what I name my character matter” and you’ll find reasons to double check your character’s name meaningwhy names matter, and questions on Quora from authors who are looking for answers.

 

How do you name characters so people don’t put down your book? Give your character’s name a purpose, and make them make sense in your novel’s setting. Sounds easier said than done, so here are some ways to name your characters to keep you on the right track.

 

1. Who are your characters’ parents?
At birth, you had nothing to do with what you were named, your parents decided that for you. Using this same rule when coming up with characters not only gives them a realistic name, but also builds a believable backstory. Religious parents are more likely to name their children something relating to their spirituality. Parents who are invested in their family’s heritage could name their child after a matriarch/patriarch. The options are endless, and even if your readers never find out your reasoning behind the name, your insight into your characters will make them more real to you.

 

2. Where are your characters from?
Different names have different meanings and spellings across the globe. Alexie could be a twenty something female from Detroit or Aleksei, a boy from Moscow. The same base name changes depending on where the character’s from, and suddenly you have a completely different person all together. Look into what names were popular when your character was born in their home city and you’ll have a hundred names to pick from.

 

3. How does the name sound?

Sherlock Holmes. Scarlett O’Hara. Tony Stark. Hermione Granger. Most people know these characters not only because of who they are but because their names are iconic. Even if you’ve never seen or read Gone With the Wind, the name Scarlett O’Hara sounds exactly the way the character acts. Strong willed, bold, and stubborn, there is only one Scarlett O’Hara, and there will never be another again. You want to make a name that sticks in everyone’s mind and lives up to your writing.

4. If all else fails, try a random name generator.
This is a sure fire way to get a list of names to pick from and can cover everything from fantasy realms to girls/boys next doors. My favorite is from Behind the Name. You can pick everything from how rare the name is, if it’s from a fantasy universe, a particular region and style.

 

How did you pick your character’s name? Have a link to a useful name generator? Leave a link below!

One thought on “Tips and Tricks to Naming Characters”

  1. Good post! I’ll never forget reading a post from a writer who had named a character Smegma. He had no idea that smegma was already a word, and probably not one he wanted to use in a serious novel…

    I downloaded census data showing the 100 most common boys’ and girls’ names in the UK (since I write characters born in the UK) for each decade over the past century. It’s available on the UK Government’s statistics website. That’s what I use as my random name generator.

    I often see authors asking for a good name for a certain type of character: ‘My MC is very brave and noble. What name would suit him?’ and I always bring up your first tip: unless his parents decided at birth that they would force him to be brave and noble, the question is really ‘What name would my MC’s parents have chosen for a baby whose personality they couldn’t yet know?’

    The name a character *chooses* shows an awful lot more about them than the name their parents chose for them. One of my characters was named Rhea because her parents are huge fans of mythology. She hates the name because she has no patience for fairy tales, so she goes by the nickname Rhey. Her name contributes to characterisation, both for her and for her parents.

    Tip #3 is very important to me, too. The first name and surname have to sound right together.

    Like

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