#authortoolboxbloghop, For Writers

“What’s In A Name?” – Naming Your Characters

name book

Great characters deserve great names, but how do you determine what that name should be? Some writers just write whatever name comes to them. They like the way it sounds, so it should work, right? Not necessarily. There are a few things to consider when naming your characters.

First off, you don’t want to have characters with names that sound the same or begin with the same letter. Your readers will inevitably mix them up. I’ve had it happen  to me. I’m reading along when I suddenly realize, “Wait- this isn’t that character, this is that other character. How long have I been mixed up?” I furiously flip back through pages I’ve already read, trying to determine where exactly I got confused. It’s not a good feeling, and you don’t want your readers to experience it.

Second, you want your characters’ names to match up with their personalities. For instance, if you are naming a scaredy-cat character who never faces his fear, you wouldn’t want to name him Eric, which means “powerful”.  A baby naming book is a great tool for finding names for your character.  In fact, sometimes it’s fun to peruse a naming book and write down names you like for use in a future story. I like The Name Book by Dorothy Astoria.

Third, you want your names to be consistent. (This pertains especially to fantasy and sci-fi.) By this, I mean you don’t want to have a lot of characters with exotic sounding names like Thordan, Boriel, and Cantor, and then have one character named Tom. When a reader comes to that name, they’ll be drawn out of the story just trying to figure out why his name is Tom. The exception to this rule would be if there actually is a specific reason for his name being Tom – like maybe he is from a different place than all your other characters.

Fourth, make sure names are believable and not too hard to pronounce. You want to be creative, but you don’t want to turn off readers. Try saying your chosen name out loud. Show the name to some friends and have them read it back to you. If it seems a little too made-up or hard to pronounce, it probably is. Also, if you can’t find the name in a baby book or a online name generator, you should probably nix it.

Fifth, minor characters might only be known by characteristic/appearance. Sometimes we have characters so minor they don’t need an actual name, but they do need something shorter than a full description for each time you refer to them. For instance, perhaps there is a mean boy tormenting your MC. He could simply be referred to as Meanie once you’ve introduced him as such.  Maybe there is an extremely pale girl who rides the same bus as your MC, but never actually talks to the MC. She could go by Ghost.

I recently read a book where the MC’s name was Seredipity.  Kind of a cool name, right? At least it was until the author gave the MC the nickname Pity. Yes, Pity!  Every time I read the name I couldn’t help but think, “What a horrible name! Are we suppose to pity her? Does she pity herself? Who would want to be called Pity?” I struggled to get through that book.

So you get the idea. You want to use creativity in naming characters, but you also want to be sure your characters’ names make sense, and that they don’t turn the reader off.

How do you choose your characters’ names? What tips do you use to help you choose names? Let me know in the comments!

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This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop hosted by the lovely Raimey Gallant. To find out more about the blog hop and check out the other participants’ post go here.

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28 thoughts on ““What’s In A Name?” – Naming Your Characters”

  1. Good points, Charity. New to AuthorToolbox and enjoying the posts. I made the mistake of having a Jake and a James in the same story. Ended up renaming James. I should have known better. I grew up in a family with a Donn, Donald and Dona. Hence, I go by D.R.

  2. Great post! Your tips are solid — I’ve stopped reading books before when I couldn’t figure out which character was which for some of these reasons.

    As far as naming my characters, I love names with hidden meanings. I’ve also been told this is a bad idea since they’re already grown and the symbolism wouldn’t have been the same at their naming, but I don’t care (for the most part).

    I also use names that I’ve heard and loved (family names from back or way back), which is often fun!

  3. One technique I’ve seen is to take a word from another language and tweak it until it sounds like a name to you. For example, there’s a video game character named Betruger, which is a German word for swindler or deceiver.

  4. What a great point about matching names to personalities. Also, I’m a big one for doing a global search for a name halfway through writing a manuscript and replacing it with something that’s a better fit. I’m not married to any name I choose. 🙂 I love your fifth point as well. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone talk about this before in a post about character naming.

  5. Great post. I like hidden meanings in the names of my Fae characters — though that’s probably more for me than for the readers. For my other characters it’s more a matter of what feels and sounds right.

  6. Great tips. Sometimes when I have trouble naming a character, I leave a blank line there like this _______, so I can come back later. Or I ask my readers/followers for help. I love to give my characters names that match their personality. It adds to the whole package.

    1. Hey Chrys, one piece of advice I came across a few years ago in one of the NaNoWriMo forums was to use a special character followed by the description of the character as a placeholder, like @meanboy. This way you can search for every @ in your story and know what you have to replace and can have several characters and places that you haven’t named but can still keep separate.

  7. This is one area I obsess over in my writing. I have favorite baby name sites (which sadly change as sites update their format and destroy some of their best features). I love embedding extra meaning in the names, historical references or insight into their character based on the meaning.
    However, I think you have to be careful not to make your character’s name meaning be too on-the-nose. My name means “great ruler,” but I am not ruling anything except my dog pack. Lol. Maybe it is because naming has always been a big thing with me that I tend to know meanings and get tired of the slew of characters whose name means exactly what their character is. I prefer it when it is something more subtle about the character.
    However, I wholeheartedly agree with the advice you give here. Names are an amazing way to add an extra layer of depth to your story.

  8. Love this! Names used to be the bane of my existence, but then I figured out a way to simplify it: giving each culture within my fantasy world their own naming system. That helps me keep my names consistent, and gives me a starting point for choosing my names.

    That said, I completely disagree about not using a name if it doesn’t already exist. In alternate world fantasy & science fiction I think it adds a layer of realism if at least some of the names are completely new.

  9. Hah, yes! I recently renamed one of my characters, and had to go around and rename half a dozen others so that everything would balance out – having a Gwen and a Glen working together would not have been a good idea.

  10. Your point 1 is very important to me. I once read a book where 3 women had names that started with A. I could never remember who each one was, so I stopped reading. Im; saving the rest of your list for reference. Thanks.

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