5 New Ways to Choose Perfect Character Names

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Do you agonize for hours over character names?

I used to. I knew I needed the just-right name to convey who the character was, but I didn’t know how to figure out what that just-right name was.

It’s a real drag, because you don’t feel like you can move on and keep writing, but you don’t feel like you’re managing your time wisely if you spend a while deciding on a character name.

Andre Cruz previously offered six useful character-naming suggestions, but if you’re still stuck, never fear. I have five more to help you stop agonizing.

OK, you might never completely quit agonizing, but these five easy tricks can help you get better at coming up with more names you like — and doing it faster.

1. Try the Random Name Generator

I love this thing!

Just choose your character’s gender and whether you want a common, average, or rare name, and check out what you get.

A few examples fresh from the Random Name Generator:

Fawn Spicer: Could a steampunk airship pirate who flies the world with her trusty crew, consisting of Mad Max the one-eyed clockwork man, Bowie the half-parrot boy, and Frida Malark, a shapeshifter trained in the Lost Arts of Wildness who doesn’t talk much but helps run the ship with an iron fist … literally.

Or what about Illuminada Lo? Sounds like a queen of an ancient lost civilization who lives in an ice palace deep under the ground, but she’s been kidnapped by an evil warlord who wants her to breed children for him. Maybe Fawn should come rescue her.

Phew. Totally just made all that up based on a couple of names. I would use those. I will use those.

(Hey, no stealing my character names now.)

2. Make use of ancient civilizations

YA fantasy writer Ysabeau Wilce set her Flora Segunda series in the Republic of Califa, a magic- and Aztec-influenced version of California in the 19th Century — think Gold Rush. Many of the names, especially of the villains, reflect Aztec naming conventions.

It gives the world a particular flair and atmosphere of mystery. Think of the geography and history of your story when you’re looking for naming inspiration.

3. Be creative with nicknames

Give your characters silly monikers that either are nicknames or sound like them. Some of my favorites:

  • Tiny Doom (best character name ever!) and Nini Mo, both from Ysabeau Wilce’s aforementioned Flora Segunda series

  • Original Cindy from the TV series Dark Angel

  • Vex and Trick from the TV series Lost Girl

  • Jack Limberleg, from The Boneshaker by Kate Milford

4. Consider sounds and syllables

Trinica Dracken. How’s that for a villain-slash-love interest? She’s from Christopher Wooding’s Tales of the Ketty Jay series. With all those hard-hitting dental consonants, you can feel what a tough soul she is. But all might not be quite as it seems.

Or what about Rath Roiben Rye from Holly Black’s Ironside faerie series? He’s a platinum-haired dark-fey elf with cheekbones that could cut glass. But you didn’t need me to tell you that, did you? It’s all in the name.

5. Keep a file of names you like

When you hear a unique name, write it down. My list includes: Chiara Peacock, Puck Steenbergen, Captain F. S. Brereton (he was actually an author), and Fenton Ash (the pseudonym of a late 19th-century author).

You can use the names straight from the list, but you can also ask yourself what you like about them to get a better sense of how you want your character’s names to sound.

I like unique names, and I have a thing about rhythm — names with alternating number of syllables often catch my notice (two syllables for the first name, then one for the last; or three syllables followed by two). I also like names that give a sense of personality, that indicate whether this person is likely to be a stodgy old military feller or a cyber-adventurer.

What other tips and tricks do you use to name your characters? What are some of your favorite character names?

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Rachael Ann Mare is a writer who helps creators stay motivated. At her blog, SpunkyMisfitGirl.com, you can download her free e-book for tips and tricks on living a more inspired life.... .

Spunky Misfit Girl | @spunkymisfitgrl

James Chartrand

Featured resource

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Comments

  1. Whenever I am cruising for names, I watch the credits of a movie and drop the first name unto the last name below it. Example:

    Joseph Ryder
    Paul Richardson

    equals Joseph Richardson

    That makes the name unique and results in interesting combinations. This works well for auxiliary characters. I think most writers already know the names of their main characters before they start writing the story.

  2. Michaelle Wilde says:

    I too prefer two syllable first names with one syllable last. Searching for names by nationality has also been helpful. Doing so allows me to begin detailing my characters features/height/etc.

  3. During my sojourn as a novelist, I found that my attempts at symbolic character names came out heavy-handed, so I switched to more organic names. In those days before apps and online generators, I simply let the local phone book fall open twice, once for a first name and once for a last name, then made sure I hadn’t ended up with someone famous, or with several unrelated characters with the same name.

    It worked for me. Those names, not particularly chosen to “be” the right one for each character, nonetheless “became” right, as all our names do in real life.

    Main characters, nonetheless, tended to get more hand-crafted names.

    Trish O’Connor
    Freelance Editorial Services and Writer’s Coaching
    Epiclesis Consulting LLC
    epiclesisconsulting.com
    epiclesisconsulting.etsy.com

  4. I’ve started opening to the masthead of magazines I subscribe to and choose names there. Of course I mix up first and last, or first from one mag and last from another. I’ve created a table of names, hero characteristic, and other pertinent information and have it under the character tab in Scrivener.

  5. I love this. Just the other day I stumbled across this old and crumbling graveyard in Hampstead, London. It was FILLED with amazing names. One gravestone just said “The Pearly King and Queen of Hampstead”. That’s not just a character name, there’s a whole story just in that epigraph. Also, people a century ago just had more unique names than today so I highly recommend poking around an old cemetery and seeing what’s there.

  6. Great post Rachael,
    Coming up with character names while writing can really be very tedious and time consuming but with all the suggestions you shared here, it will be easier.

    I especially love the idea of using nickenames.

    Thanks for sharing

  7. Rachael,

    Thanks for a short and sweet, but very informative article. (and for those character names I’m totally gonna steal >:-} )

  8. I go to graveyards to steal names that have fallen out of favor, especially last names that have literally died out and we never see anymore. The other place I get names is by taking pictures of the last credits of a film, people like the gaffers and sound crews – they’re cool and new and hip enough to be names within the Hollywood industry and by mixing and matching them you can get some truly amazing character names. Oh and one more, in my books my character’s last names are always intersecting streets in the city I live, Oakland.

  9. I write historical fiction, so it’s easy to google commonly used names from that time period. I’ve also gotten names from obituaries. In fact, my current novel’s main character was inspired from an obituary I read in the Globe and Mail.

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