Naming Characters

What is in a name?

A name is essentially the first impression your reader has of your character. So naming your character is important. Like, really important.

How do you choose a name? Sometimes by laboriously combing through lists for hours until you find the right one. Sometimes by combining names until you have the right fit. Sometimes by settling on one and changing it later if it doesn’t work. You are the writer. It’s your decision how you want to convey your characters to your readers.

Honestly, you can use any name you want. You, as the writer, get to portray the character. I pick weird names that seem perfectly right for the character I’m writing. I used to make the mistake of asking people what they thought of my crazy, strange names. I don’t do that anymore. Validation is great, but honestly I don’t really expect people to like the name for the name itself, but the person I build around that name, who belongs to that name. And texting someone a name saying “do you like this?” does absolutely no good. If I took any of their advice and changed it to something more likable and generic (not always, but usually that’s what people recommend), I wouldn’t like it on my character.

When I think about this, I always think of Hermione. My favorite Harry Potter character is Hermione Granger. I like her name mostly because it’s hers. If someone had asked me “do you like the name Hermione?”  before Harry Potter, I’m not sure I would’ve said yes. If you stare at it long enough, it looks like a weird spelling of Herman. It’s an interesting name, and I love it because of the character Hermione is. Use the name that suits the character.

Where do I look for names?

  1. Baby Naming websites. People have created lists upon lists of names by theme, origin language, popularity, and almost anything else you can think of. I go to one of these and scroll until a name jumps off the page at me.
  2. Old Surname websites. Again, people have compiled lists. I love looking at last names from long ago. Sometimes I use one as a first name, sometimes as a nickname, sometimes as a surname. These can be more unique and less common.
  3. Wikipedia. This is actually my favorite thing to do. For some characters, I know what feeling I want their name to bring, but I have no clue what I want to call them. So, I choose an animal that I feel like embodies the character, and I search for it on Wikipedia. Then I look at the scientific names of the animals, other species similar, and I try to pick part of a word that sounds like a name of a person.
  4. Authors in Magazines. People nowadays have some great names. I page through magazines and look at the writers names and see if I like any of them. I never use a first and last name together, but sometimes I take one or the other. Old magazines are also fun to use for this, or even books if that’s what’s available.
  5. Name Generators. I love websites that makeup random “names” by mish mashing together letters and creating a list of “words” that hopefully sound like names. Usually at least one or two of them do, and usually they let you put in what consonants or vowels you want in the names. A great way, especially for fantasy, to get out of the box, usually unique name suggestions.

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