Naming your characters is one of the important tasks you need to do as a fiction author.
You need to pick the perfect name that suits your character’s personality. It also needs to be memorable such that readers still think about your protagonist from time to time.
But what makes a good name? How do you choose the right name for your characters?
Here are some tips on naming your characters for your story.
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Check The Meaning Behind The Name
This is my #1 go-to tip when selecting character names.
I usually name my characters based on meanings. This could be a personality that fits the character, what they’re good at or what I’m hoping for these characters to symbolize.
- Hedwig: battle, combat, war
- Taylor: tailor, to cut
- Venus: love
You don’t have to explicitly mention the meaning behind your protagonist’s name or even write out a scene explaining how your protagonist’s parents decide on their child’s name. These hidden meaning are meant for you, the author, and avid readers. It’s like a clue that provides insight into the character.
Having this significant meaning behind your character name will remind you of their key characteristic. This will keep out-of-character moments minimal and ensure that characters stay true to themselves.
Here are some baby name websites that I use to check for meanings:
Consider Your Character’s Background
Another way to name your characters is by looking at their background.
If you have a character that was born in United States thirty years ago, you might want to check the popular names for that year in United States.
In addition to using a name that fits your character’s background, you’ll also need to take into account your novel’s genre and era. If your novel is set in the Victorian era, you might consider names like George, Rose and Charles. If you’re writing science fiction, you might consider names like Deliah, Lorelei and Scorpius.
Do ensure that the names you pick are historically accurate. You’ll need to do some in-depth research for this.
Create Original Names
You can always create unusual names, especially if you’re creating a new world in your fantasy novel.
For example, you could tweak the names you like, such as Sabrina to Sabria or Sabrisa. Or you could mash two names together like Emily and Belle to create Emelle.
Do make sure that the name is easy to pronounce. If you have difficulty pronouncing your character’s name, your readers will face the same problem too.
Think About Nicknames
Some names can be shortened to nicknames. Like Dave for David or Jen for Jennifer.
Nicknames, which are terms of endearment, is a great way to show affection. They could be used among friends, families and couples. For instance, a husband might call his wife “honey” or “dear” while a parent might call her child “sweetie” or “baby”.
Besides indicating the relationship level between characters, nicknames also shed light on a character’s background. If your protagonist is called by her nickname from family members, readers can tell immediately that she was brought up in a warm and loving family. On the other hand, if your protagonist is always called by her full name, this hints that she often gets into trouble or that her parents are cold and distant.
Nicknames also tell you a lot about the character. Let’s say your protagonist, Elizabeth, insists to go by Liz. By rejecting her name, she is rebelling against her parents’ wish for her to be a prim and proper lady.
If your characters have distinguishing traits, you can create nicknames based on this. For example, a skinny character can be nicknamed “Bones” while a sweet and petite character can be nicknamed “Sweet Pea”.
Say The Name Aloud
One key tip is to speak the name out loud. Hear how it sounds and whether it rolls off your tongue.
The name should be easy to pronounce. Your readers shouldn’t be tongue-tied or tripping over your character’s name.
Also, ensure that the first and last name go well together (including nicknames). Take into account the syllable and rhythm.
I tend to avoid alliterative names like Jasper Johnson and names that rhyme like Gerry Carey. They’re a mouthful :/
Avoid Using Similar Names For Several Characters
If your characters have names that look or sound similar, your readers will be confused. They might not be able to tell your characters apart. This is especially important for your protagonist and major characters.
You can avoid this by not using names that
- start with the same letters: James, Jane, Joe
- end with the same letter or sound: Jerry, Mary
- rhyme: Jessa, Tessa
This also applies to twins, triplets, quadruplets etc. They can be similar since they’re siblings. But at the same time, their names need to be unique enough so your readers can differentiate them.
Avoid Using Names Of Famous People
Avoid using the name of a famous person, whether real or fictional. You shouldn’t have a character called Taylor Swift or Harry Potter.
Besides copyright infringement issues, using such names will only make readers think about this famous person rather than your character.
You can always type your character name into the search engine and see if there’s a Wikipedia page for such person.
Bonus Tip: Use A Name Generator
I don’t really recommend this but you can consider using name generators to spark your creative juices. Just a few simple clicks and you’ll get a new and interesting name.
Here are some name generators that you can try
Bonus Tip: Listen To Your Characters
As authors, I’m sure you’ve encountered this scenario where your characters appear in your mind with a fixed name. You didn’t specifically search for any name but this character seemed to have decided on his or her name already.
This happened to me for one of my characters (in my current manuscript). Her nickname just appeared in my mind during the plotting stage when I was creating her personality.
I strongly recommend that you treasure these moments when you hear your characters. Listen to them and consider using the names they suggest, especially since they know themselves best 😉
Bonus Tip: Note Down Why You Chose The Character Name
Whether you chose a character name because of its meaning or it suited the character’s background, do remember to note this down somewhere. It’ll come in handy whenever you’re writing a scene that involves this character.
I strongly recommend that you jot down the reason in your character profile. This could be a printable from Etsy which usually includes other writing templates like worldbuilding and chapter outlines.
Or you could use the Creative Writing Templates from Evernote too.
Now It’s Your Turn
How do you come up with names for your characters? Do you have any other tips on naming fictional characters?