Tag Archives: naming

How to Name Your Characters

31 May

Naming your characters, especially your main characters, can feel like a daunting task. Some enjoy the thrill of it; others struggle a lot, and never quite feel like they found the “right” name. 

I, for one, love naming characters. I often joke that baby name books are some of my favorite reads and, in fact, I’ve been this way for a while. I hated my name growing up and spent a lot of time vicariously living through my characters with fanciful or meaningful names I much more preferred. (Fun fact: I’m named after the song “Shannon” by Henry Gross.) 

Naming characters can be a lot of fun and, with the right tools and a little bit of imagination, you can enjoy the process, too. 

First and foremost: 

When should you name characters? Honestly, whenever you want to. I tend to name my characters long before I start writing. (I spend a significant time researching and playing with the names before I attempt Chapter One.) This has benefits, but it also has drawbacks. I’ve had to change character names after the fact, and due to my attachment, it was a lot harder. (I still secretly call them by their original names to my beta readers.) But I love getting to know my characters long before I meet them on the page. 

How should you name your characters? Consider the setting of your novel. What time period are you in? What culture? 1880 in Russia is going to be VERY different from 2030 in Brazil. Once you figure that out, consider who is naming your character. Technically, it’s you, yes, but in the world of your character, they were named by someone and/or adopted a name for themselves. Knowing this motivation will help you not only build your world but get to know your character better. A daughter may be named after her grandparent, or a man may reject his name because he hates who he is named after. The nickname he adopts could mean something to him or be something he saw off of a billboard. Either way, that says a lot about what is happening. Remember most parents use iambic pentameter for names. The rhythm often works and will help your character names shine. 

Where can I find names?

Babynames.com provides thousands of names within cultures, meanings, genders, and more. I love BabyNames.com. 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.)

Aside from BabyNames.com, I get creative. I flip through old yearbooks, magazines, etc. I’ve even used my own family’s genealogy as a place to get inspired. For historical pieces, I tend to look at popular names through the years at SSA, [Social Security Association.] I also consider last names very carefully. Last Name Meanings provides a list of last names and where they derived from, along with the meaning behind them.

Can I make up names?

Absolutely! I tend to get this question from fantasy/sci-fi writers, because sci-fi/fantasy generally calls for unique names, but tread carefully. Sometimes, your best bet is taking well-known names and simply mixing them to create something unique, ex. Serena + Violet = Serolet. Try NameCombiner.com to see what you can come up with.

Pinterest board sneak peek

Is choosing a name holding you back from actually writing? Embrace filler names. I use filler names all the time. Basically, I have a list of names that are placeholders for certain personalities. I consistently use these names while first drafting, until I settle on a “real” name that feels right. If you don’t have these, grab some from a name generator. I don’t use Scrivener to get my character names. However, there’s a name generator that I think is an awesome tool that is often overlooked. It’s found in the same place: Edit -> Writing Tools -> Name Generator, and you can select from a variety of choices: names by country origin, first letter, ending letter, alliteration, and more. More recently, I’ve started a private Pinterest board where I pin baby name articles and other fun names I come across. Now it’s easy to just hop on and scroll through ones I’ve been saving for future use. 

Once you get a full cast, it’s best to double check the list and ask yourself how they’ll appear throughout the series. Too many similar names might make it hard for readers to follow. 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. 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. Granted, this solution might not fit every scenario. There are times where similarities can be too meaningful to change. But it doesn’t hurt to consider all your options. 

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!

~SAT

P.S. I’m teaching a free, virtual writing class on Wednesday, June 2 at 6:30 PM-8:00 PM CDT. It’s all about Starting a Writing Project. So, if you’re looking for more inspiration and fun tools/tricks, you can register here.

#MondayBlogs Writing Tips: Naming Your Characters

22 Aug

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.)

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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

~SAT

Here are two of my FREE books:

Bad Bloods: November Rain

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Writing Tips: Naming Your Characters

29 Apr

2 days until the Minutes Before Sunset release! I’m feeling pretty supercalifragilisticexpialidocious about it all 😀 [And definitely not sleeping due to excitement] And I have one more announcement!

Minutes Before Sunset will be available as an e-book through Barnes & Noble and Amazon for $6.99 on May 1st! Please help spread the word :] The first day of sales is often the most important, and I really appreciate everyone who’s helped (and encouraged) me on here, Facebook, and Twitter. 

I’ve also received an author review for Minutes Before Sunset: “An exciting mixture of paranormal, romance, and page-turning action. Can’t wait to see book 2.” – Raymond Vogel, author of Matter of Resistance, a YA Science Fiction novel.

And the first chapter was published in The Corner Club Press yesterday! You can open an online version of it by clicking here. And congrats to the founder, Amber Forbes, who has signed her novel, “When Stars Die.” (I’ll be doing a piece on her soon, so look out for this emerging young author!)

But onto the writing tips !

Characters names are really important, and choosing them can take hours if you’re not sure why you can’t pick one out. So I’ve made a list of things to consider when naming your characters, along with websites to look things up in.

1. Time & Culture

This is the basic rule: Is it believable that your character’s parents would name them something within the setting’s restrictions? Of course, there are exceptions (especially within nicknames, which is another thing completely.) But consider the year. 1880 is going to be VERY different from 2030. If you want, you can actually look up popular names through the years at SSA, [Social Security Association.]

This is what my life has been like the past few weeks. Never ending. But minus the summer. [No complaints] I love being able to do what I love every day.

This is what my life has been like the past few weeks. Never ending. But minus the summer. [No complaints] I love being able to do what I love every day.

2. Unique and Memorable

You don’t want repetitive names or sounds. Of course everyone knows not to use names already used in very famous novels, but what about within your own book? You probably don’t want to name everyone with a “J” name. It’d be hard to follow Jack, John, Jared, and Jill around. Or even if all the names are very strange. I’d also consider the rhythm of couples (or protagonists in general.) Try to make them sound good together. The exception happens within relationships. If you have two brothers, having their names be similar is easier for the reader to follow.

3. Mixing Names (Sci-Fi)

I really believe science-fiction needs to have interesting names (along with most genres), but names that the eyes won’t struggle with. Unique names need to be considered very carefully, because you don’t want a reader unable to converse about your novel because they can’t say what they read.

As a personal example, Minutes Before Sunset is a paranormal romance. My characters have two names, one when they’re humans, one when they’re in their shade form. So their human names are very simple, while their shade names are more complicated and/or exotic. That way, it’s easily distinguishable:

Eric Welborn – Shoman

Jonathon Stone – Pierce

James Welborn – Bracke

George Stone – Urte

4. Names and Last Names

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.) An example: In Minutes Before Sunset, Eric’s middle name is his father’s first name.

I also considered their last names very carefully. My protagonist, Eric Welborn, is born into a prophecy he cannot understand nor agree with, yet his last name insinuates he is “well born.” That is how it was created. (And it’s a real last name!) Jonathon Stone is Eric’s best friend. His last name is Stone, because he changes personalities the most when he transitions from human to shade. Stone, again, is used more for irony or, perhaps, a reality they have yet to see.

5. Where you can find them

There are many places you can go to inspire names.

  • 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.
  • Babynames.com provides thousands of names within cultures, meanings, genders, and more. You can even save your favorite names as you skip around. (Although don’t be surprised if people ask you why you’re looking up baby names in public. ha.)
  •  Last Name Meanings provides a list of last names and where they derived from, along with the meaning behind them.

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! Join me on Facebook and ask questions anytime you want!

~SAT

May 1: Minutes Before Sunset Release Party! (a.k.a Dancing around with Bogart)

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