I’ve read a lot of blog posts about how to name your characters. I even wrote a post about it a while back, which you can read here on the Mythic Scribes website. I don’t know that there’s one right or wrong way to come up with names for characters, and there are different tips and tricks that vary depending on genre. (My post on Mythic Scribes is about inventing names for fantasy. That article probably won’t help you much if you’re writing contemporary women’s lit.)
So how do you come up with good character names? Well, here are a few suggestions that are not so much tips and tricks, but are ideas to consider when you sit down to populate your story with characters.
Consider your genre. If you’re writing science fiction or fantasy, then you might be able to get some ideas from that post I wrote for Mythic Scribes. (If you do read that post, then scroll down and read the comments – lots of good ideas there.) If you’re writing historical fiction, then do your research and choose names that fit with the time period and location. It wouldn’t do to have a character named Jessica in a story set in ancient Rome (unless, of course, you’re doing a sci-fi time-travel story).
Consider symbolism or meaning of names. This is a common thought process behind the naming of characters – at least from what I’ve read on blogs and heard from other authors. Depending on your genre and the story itself, you can go heavy-handed with the symbolism and meaning – for example, like J.K. Rowling and her name for Remus Lupin. If you know anything about mythology and/or the Latin and Greek roots of words, his name is a dead giveaway that he’s somehow related to dogs or werewolves. Symbolism in names can also be more subtle, such as naming a strong male character after your beloved grandfather, even if the character is not based on him. Some authors want a name that has a particular meaning, which may or may not figure directly in the story. Baby name books are a great resource if you’re looking for meaning or symbolism in your names.
Use humor or in-jokes with your names, if appropriate. This one really depends on the genre and the type of story you’re trying to tell. A comedy might benefit from pun-like names or names with a certain humorous meaning behind them. This may not be the best example, but in the fantasy series I’m writing, I have a character whose last name is Abernathy. This in itself is not funny (nor are the stories supposed to be funny), but I use his last name for (very occasional) humor within the tale. The books are set in Finland, and all of the main characters (with the exception of Mr. Abernathy) are Finnish. I deliberately picked a name that would be challenging for native Finnish speakers to pronounce. This is an incredibly minor point in the books, but I thought it would be fun to toss in elements of other characters occasionally mangling his name.
Scroll through the phone book or pick a Scrabble tile from the box. Did I just say phone book? I feel old now. Well, hopefully you get the idea. This is the “random selection” idea of generating names, and could work if you are totally stuck for ideas, or if you just need a quick name for a minor character and don’t need to put a lot of thought into it.
Now over to you – do you have any ideas or special techniques for naming characters in your stories?
4 thoughts on “Naming Your Characters”
I walk through graveyards when I am stuck on names. There are some really unusual first and last names out there
That’s a great technique – especially if you’re looking for names common to a certain area or a time in history. I did that once for a writing class in high school. Maybe I should do it again sometime!
I like to make time to stop at at least one graveyard when I am out of town (its better when I am out of state) even when I am not stuck and write them in a special notebook I keep with me.