#MondayBlogs Writing Tips: Naming Your Characters

Naming characters is really important! It can also be fun…and a little daunting. Choosing them can take hours, and on top of that, publishers might change them anyway. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the process. In this article, I’ll list a few aspects to consider while naming your characters, and I’ll include websites you can use as tools to find the perfect name.

Have fun!

1. Time & Culture

Is it believable that your character’s parents would name them something within the setting’s restrictions? Of course, there are exceptions, but consider the year. 1880 is going to be VERY different from 2030. Research your setting! If you want, you can actually look up popular names through the years at SSA, [Social Security Association.] Also, BabyNames.com allows you to explore baby names based on origin, ex. Irish names, Persian names, etc. Babynames.com provides thousands of names within cultures, meanings, genders, and more. You can even save your favorite names as you skip around. (Don’t be surprised if people ask you why you’re looking up baby names in public. I’ve been “congratulated” on a number of occasions.)


2. Last Names and Family Lineage

Remember most parents use iambic pentameter for names. The rhythm should work. On top of that, you can consider naming a character after another character. A son may be named after his father or grandfather. Last Name Meanings provides a list of last names and where they derived from, along with the meaning behind them.

3. Unique and Memorable

Of course everyone knows not to use names already used in very famous novels, but what about within your own book? Avoid repetitive names or sounds. You probably don’t want to name everyone with a “J” name. It’d be hard to follow Jack, John, Jared, and Jill around. Personally, I suggest making a list of characters names in alphabetical order so you can physically see what is represented. Consider start, end, and syllables. The exception generally happens within relationships. Example? If you have brothers, maybe they will have similar names, but don’t overdo it.

4. Mixing Names (Sci-Fi/Fantasy)

Listen, we all know sci-fi/fantasy generally calls for unique names, but tread carefully. Having a character names Zzyklazinsky is going to be WAY too hard for a reader’s eyes. Sometimes, your best bet is taking well-known names and simply mixing them to create something more relatable but unique, ex. Serena + Violet = Serolet. Try NameCombiner.com to see what you can come up with.

5. Look All Around You

There are so many references on the Internet to find names. Other than those websites stated above, get creative. Pick up an old yearbook. You’ll be surprised how many different first and last names (along with rhythms) you can find. However, I suggest not using a person’s exact name, but rather use it as a reference. Maybe a first or a last. When I recently atteneded a high school graduation, I kept the pamphlet with all the names on it. There’s nothing like needing a quick reference – a real one – that isn’t online. Even funnier? A real Noah Welborn was on there. (My male protagonist from The Timely Death Trilogy is named Eric Welborn, but his little brother is named Noah Welborn.) Sometimes, reality fuses with fiction. And, of course, life in general. If you’re at a restaurant and notice your waiter’s name on his nametag, jot it down. Even if you don’t use it now, you might in the future…which brings me to my last point.

Keep a list of names that you love (and maybe even why you love them). That way, when you’re ready to write another book, you have a notebook filled with ideas already, and you can start right away.

A mixture of all these things creates a list of believable characters, and I really hope you’ll enjoy playing around with names more than before!

Original posted April 29, 2013


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21 thoughts on “#MondayBlogs Writing Tips: Naming Your Characters

  1. I’m curious about the famous character rule. Is that only for first names? I’ve run into it before since my main character is named Luke. Just sounds like a rule that could eventually reduce protagonists to either simple or truly bizarre names. Totally agree on the fantasy/sci-fi stuff though. I still remember a book where there was a pronunciation guide at the beginning to help you with the names. After a chapter of back-and-forth, I gave up.

    1. Technically, I think it applies more so to combinations rather than one name. Ex. You wouldn’t name your main love interests Bella and Edward. But you could probably use Edward, though a publisher would probably want to change it anyway. With hundreds of names available, why not try to use something new (especially not something that was on a NYT Best-Sellers List). But taking your example, for instance, I think you could use Luke, but probably not in a space opera or any sci-fi…especially if he has issues with his father. lol

      1. There is father friction, but not that extent. Just butting heads over life choices. I still find it odd that a name can be ‘blocked’ if somebody makes it popular first. Though, I wonder if it depends on if it’s the first/last combo or similarities between the characters. You can still use ‘Harry’ as long as it isn’t ‘Potter’ or a boy in school or something magical. I mean, would there be a problem with a romantic lead named Harry? Guess I just don’t like the idea of working hard on a character, the name feeling right, and then being told no because somebody used it first for something that might not be connected to you.

  2. Another good blog and topic, Shannon. By chance, can you give any hints about using “common names”, names appearing in other stories or novels, but your character is different? Thanks, Val

    1. Sure! I mainly meant combinations rather than a single name. Ex. You probably wouldn’t want to (or legally be able to) name your protagonist Bella and her boyfriend Edward. But I think you could probably use the name Edward on its own, though I would bet a publisher would still change it at this point. Plus, there are so many wonderful names out there, why not try something new?

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