Although there are many ways to name your characters, it’s more difficult than it seems. As writers, we must pick memorable names that define the personality of our characters. Each character’s name must be distinctive so our readers will not confuse them, yet we don’t want complicated names that will trip them up as they’re reading. If we have a huge cast of characters, we may run out of new and original ideas.
Writers who plan will create character profiles as they outline, choosing their names before ever writing. Those who write by the seat of their pants (like me) invent names as we go, or use placeholder names until the writing is done.
I’ve had to go back into my manuscript more than once to rename characters after realizing they had boring or similar sounding names. I’ve also had to research authentic names for characters who come from different countries.
I asked our members at the Writers’ Mastermind their favorite ways to name characters. Here are some fun ideas you can try out the next time you’re stuck for a character name.
9 Fun Ways to Name Your Characters
1. Movie credits–Most of us stop the movie when the credits roll. Next time, read through the names. Jot down any that jump out at you.
2. Players of sports teams–Are you a sports fan? Football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer, golf, horse racing? You can find an endless supply of names at sporting events. Mix and match first names and surnames for your next hero or villain.
3. Name tags of personnel–Next time you’re at a shop, restaurant, or grocery store, look at the employee’s name tag and save that name for a future character.
4. Family tree–Mine your family tree for cool names, and honor your ancestors in your story.
5. Graveyard–Walk around a graveyard with a notebook and resurrect the names of the deceased.
6. Scrivener name generator–If you use the Scrivener app, you can use the built-in name generator. Click “Edit” and scroll down to “Writing tools.” From there, you can choose gender, language, and other options.
7. Online name generators–If you don’t have Scrivener, no worries. There are many free name generators online, like the fun-to-use one on Reedsy.
8. Baby name books–Bringing a new character in the world is like having a baby on the way. That’s why baby name books are the perfect source for names. They also list the meaning of the name, which adds an extra layer of personality.
I got the name for Ona, the protagonist of my WIP, from a New Age baby name book, which included names from different cultures and traditions all over the world.
9. Google–When characters need foreign names or common names for different time periods, Google is the best option. Search up “most popular names” in the geographical area or time period your character is from, and you will find loads of interesting names.
How can you tell if you’ve chosen the right name for your character?
It helps to read your story out loud to see if your characters’ names ring true. Beta readers will also tell you if they get confused.
Avoid using multiple names that start with the same letter or have a similar structure, especially important characters who appear in the same scenes. Mix up sounds, syllables, and styles. Good names will sound and feel right, and create a picture in the reader’s mind.
What are your favorite ways to name your characters?
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