6 Creative Ways to Name Your Fictional Characters

Novelists: 6 Creative Ways to Name Your Fictional Characters -- You Don't Have To Pull From A Hat
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When you start writing your story, how long does it take you to come up with character names? Often, choosing the perfect name for your protagonist and antagonist can take ages, especially when you’re not sure how to start.

I’ve been there. After wasting days staring at a blank computer screen, attempting to come up with names for all of my characters, I came up with some helpful naming strategies. Lucky for you, I like to share.

Using any of these methods cuts down the amount of time I spend coming up with character names and lets me get back to the actual writing. Next time you’re stuck and can’t decide what to name your dystopian sharpshooting heroine, try one of these ideas.

1. “Borrow” from a friend or family member

This is the easiest way to create a fictional character name because you aren’t actually creating one! All you are doing is copying. Maybe your father is your hero, so you decide to name your protagonist after him.

Just be careful. Make sure you ask permission and let him know ahead of time of how he will be portrayed. You may think all you will be using is his name, but some of his personality traits may unwittingly end up in your story as well. Especially if you are the type of writer that skips outlines and lets the story unfold in front of you as you write it.

So watch out. These people know where you live!

2. Use Fido and your street

Confused? Let me explain.

Just use your pet’s name as the fictional character’s first name and your street’s name as your character’s last name. Mine would be Butch Fields and yes, he comes from the rough part of a fictional town.

3. Match name with theme

Are you a fan of symbolism? If so, then try this one. Write down your story’s themes and then head to a name generator website or baby name site to search for names related to those themes.

Funnily enough, I have found that the name Andre shows up under themes like manly, strong and brave, which of course I am… after a few drinks.

4. Combine the names of your favorite authors

A second helping of Stephen Rice, anyone? Guess what I did there. This is very similar to number one.

Maybe you don’t feel comfortable using the names of living writers, so how about this… Jack Hemingway? See, I used Jack London and… you get it.

fictional characters

5. Use a name translator

Yep, there is such a thing. And here you thought number one was too easy!

A name translator is a great program that allows a writer to easily discover names in other languages. However, you already have to be thinking of a name. Try tip one and then this tip, or get started by just putting your own name into the translator.

You can head to your favorite search engine and search for ‘name translators’ or ‘my name in’ and type in any language, such as Chinese or Hebrew. You will find plenty of free name translators to use. So if you are looking for a really great foreign name for your character, you can skip Rosetta Stone.

6. Use an encyclopedia and your creative side

No matter what genre it is, think about where your story takes place. Your setting can inspire names for your characters. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it).

Does it have mountains? Are they a part of your fictional characters’ culture? Then research people who have mountains as a part of their culture, such as the Andean people of Peru and the Appalachian people of North America.

What if your story takes place on a faraway planet? Your setting likely looks a bit like some place you’ve seen before on Earth, or maybe a mix of several places. Think of those real places that inspire your off-world setting and think of the real people that make those places their home. Research those places to get a feel of what your fictional culture could be.

After completing your research on the culture or cultures that inspired your fictional one, use the names in those real cultures for inspiration for the names of your fictional characters.

How do you come up with names for your characters?

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Andre Cruz is a science fiction and fantasy author who loves to share creating writing advice on his blog The Word. Follow it at www.andrecruz.net to get great creative writing advice and book recommendations.... .

The Word | @AndreCruzWrites

Andre Cruz
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Comments

  1. Great tips!

    I never thought of using the names of my pets, past and present, and street names where I currently and previously lived.

    I created a fictional character swipe file in Evernote and add to it whenever I hear names that are perfect character names.

    • Thanks Amandah,

      Keeping notes is a very smart idea. I am glad you were able to find my tips useful.

      For more great tips please visit my site http://www.andrecruz.net

      • Andre Cruz, u r the best. I admire that your blog was able to get this far. Mine has never had a living soul glance at it. *sniff* plus I’m not even done with it.

    • I sometimes hack into my friends’ phones and look at their contacts. I scribble weird names onto notecards, which are the closet things nearby, and can’t find half of them afterwards! I should use an organized system like your Evernote, which is a great idea!
      I will now be more aware of street names. Thanks for the ideas!

  2. I’ve used most of these tricks at one time or another. I like http://www.20000-names.com/ for making sure that names fit the ethnicity of the character, whether real or alien. Often I’ll pick a name with a meaning that ‘fits’ the character in some way, but I try to avoid job related names. Few cultures fix a child’s career at birth! My other trick is to put a dvd at random into my player and run the credits at the end. I’ll then pick a first name from one and a last name from someone else, usually from non-acting credits – again trying to make them fit their origins. However I choose my character names, I always Google the result to make sure it isn’t the name of somebody in real life who may take exception and sue me! I have a strong childhood memory of being asked by a teacher to read out a short story I’d written in assembly. I had no idea why some of the boys laughed at the name of my protagonist – chosen at random – until somebody pointed out that Robert Charlton was very close to Bobby Charlton the footballer!

  3. I keep a spreadsheet that has thousands of surnames and half as many first names male and female. I’ll share a tip for fantasy writers, though. Dig into the Old Testament lists of families. Pick an interesting name and adapt it. All my roleplay characters were named that way.

    • Random Writer says:

      I’ll often try brainstorming traits of the character, and then translating them to different languages and smashing them together (or leaving them that way). For example, a dark and quick character could get Velox and Tenebris, making, say, “Tenelox” or “Velbris” or even “Venelox”, something of that sort. I don’t know, I’ve just found it to be a good way for me. Also, try looping it back to make sure you got the right meaning of your word in that language!

  4. Those were great tips! I sent this info to my daughter who’s a comic actor who does skits and makes up characters for her acts.

  5. It always takes me forever to choose character names. I’m so specific about how the name fits the character, what it says about the character and the like. I often choose a working name — and will from now on use your tips to find that working name — and then let the final name fall into place with the final edits.

    Love these ideas! Thanks!

  6. I found a elven name generator online, had it spit out 100 names, found some I kind of liked, and fudged them a little to fit. Some of my previous dwarf names are jumbles of early fan names. One in particular is inspired heavily by her semi-namesake, and has been identified by many as the most interesting secondary character. I think when characters or scenes are close to our hearts, it shows.

  7. Names have never been a big issue for me, although I change names in the middle of the story if a new name and the character fit. I named my daughter after a character I created, then later changed the character’s name (but kept my daughter’s). If I want to honor someone in real life, I may use their last name as a first for a character. If writing a series or saga and the characters in following books show up in Book One, you don’t have to worry about coming up with the main characters’ names. My real problems is trying to settle on a name for a new puppy!

  8. I love naming my protagonists after my friends. For the antagonists I think of characters from movies. 🙂 Though I also cosider if the name fits the personality of my characters.

    • That’s sort of what I do too, Joy. Gives friends and family immortality! I also have pictures or a clear vision of who would play the character if a movie was made.

      • I often compile a cast list too. While I may pick ‘big names’ for my main characters, I also search Imdb for lesser known actors and actresses of around the right age, height etc. for others. Of course, that backfires a bit when you have a cast of teenagers and the story gets put on hold for five years!

  9. What great tips these are, Andre, thank you for sharing. I normally base my characters names from music I love, such as the Hollies, and Beatles then mix them up a bit. But your tips are great, and will make the job a lot easier.

  10. I make up all of my character names. I sometimes take a common name, and alter it until it is unrecognisable. Andrew becomes Arbreu.

    Other times I find a sound I like and play around with it, choogal became Churnyg.

    Each name is checked on Google and if it is reasonably obscure, I will use it. On occasion, some of the names I have made up have no links on Google at all. True exclusivity.

  11. Good article. Your advice for studying cultures similar to the one you’re writing about is especially useful and is one I myself have used in the past.

    Another method I use is taking random words in sentences (usually words that are right next to each other), mashing them together, and altering them to make a good-sounding name. Being a fantasy/sci-fi writer means I can get away with doing that 😛 .

    For example, in the above paragraph, I might pick out “take random” and mash them together to make “Takerandom.”

    The problem, though, is that “Takerandom” is too long and unwieldy and looks hideous on paper (how a name looks is important for me, especially if that name is going to be the name of a major character who is going to appear or be mentioned often).

    So I’ll take out a few unnecessary letters, rearrange the remaining ones, and now we got “Takren.” It’s not a perfect name, but it’s easy to spell, easy to read, and sounds like a fantasy or sci-fi name. It works, in other words.

    That’s not the only way I come up with names, but it’s the one method that has consistently worked for me and is my favorite.

    -Tim

    • This really helped me out! I love using my dogs name as the protagonist but I use my friends names as the antagonist🙂🙂🙂!

  12. Bob Weaver says:

    I have a simple source for coming up with names for characters. I look up present (better past) pro sports teams rosters in Wikipedia, and mix-n-match first and last names. American Football has a good variety of European, Asian, Latin American and African names.

  13. Great suggestions. Sometimes I agonize over the simplest things.

  14. I have called My character Abigail. But her surname is a real problem as every good surname that I thought of for her there is Already an Abigail with the surname for example I wanted to call her Abigail Davis and when I goggled it I found that there is already a real life Abigail Davis so I couldn’t use that surname

    • Why not try one of the strategies outlined in the post to help inspire a surname? Another option I enjoy is to bike or walk around a new part of my city and look at the street names. Sometimes they combine in interesting ways to create surnames.

      Or you could stick with Abigail Davis. After all, there were several real-life Harry Potters before J.K. Rowling made the name famous!

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

  15. Wow, these are great!

    I often just think of the personality/role of my character and then think of a name that I naturally associate with it e.g. I tend to use names with the letter ‘v’ in them for antagonists like Sylvester, Victor and Vincent, but I’ve used Vito for one of my protagonists to change it up.

    Sometimes I take a character’s personality and then make the name reflect the opposite of it e.g. Leif (another protagonist) was the name I used for a person who was snarky and boisterous, not something I’d associate with a plant.

  16. Combining names can come from many sources: George Bush? Sherlock Holmes? You can get George Holmes or Sherlock Bush. Use a variation on a celeb name, maybe: turn Johnny Cash into Jimmy Cashton (or Jack Cashdollar). Maybe create a “family” of characters and then “introduce” members of the family in different stories: the detective in one, the singer in another, the writer and the hooker in a third. You can reveal them as all bros and sisters–or not–if you want to write stories that mash ’em up w/ each other.

  17. Really great tips! A job well done!

    But the most frustrating thing is that when I googled my names they all belonged to sb already! EVERY SINGLE ONE! it took me a week to name my characters! 🙁

  18. You could always use names of your role models, like, for me, I like both Amelia Earhart and Joan of Arc so maybe I could do Joan Earhart and maybe have her as an aviator and fighter for her country.

  19. Rowling apparently got some of her names from the church registry…
    I like looking at Mythology, doing searches in different languages, or just making up something that sounds spunky (they have been on occasion known to be real).
    Loved the suggestion of the name translator… I’ll have to try that!

  20. Great ideas! Thanks for writing this!

  21. These are priceless tips Andre. Thanks.

  22. Andres Cruz says:

    lololololol we share the same name bro

  23. WUBBA LUBBA DUB DUB! says:

    what i did to come up with a name was: i played shiritory (eg: hello-oil-lotion)
    and i got the first letters of each word i thought of (eg: hello-oil-lotion=hol)

Trackbacks

  1. […] 6 Creative Ways to Name Your Fictional Characters. […]

  2. […] Main characters in picture books are usually the same age as the readers, typically either kids or animals. Rarely are they adults or inanimate objects, but there are exceptions: The Day the Crayons Quit features crayon characters. For character naming tips, see 6 Creative Ways to Name Your Fictional Characters. […]

  3. […] Cruz offers practical tips on choosing characters’ names that could apply to any genre, not only fantasy protagonists or villains. One suggestion: […]

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