How Do You Name Your Characters?

 

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This week I’ve been mulling over an idea for a novel and a decisive moment came when I named my characters. For me, this made the project feel more real and tangible, the same as giving the novel a working-title. Funnily enough though, I forgot how tricky it is to come up with names so thought I’d put some ideas down here.

1. Base the name on a personality trait or defining quality

For example, Alexia or Alexis which derives from Greek, meaning ‘to defend’. Or the less flattering Cameron which comes from a Scottish surname meaning ‘crooked nose’. This can be a good exercise in distilling what’s most important about each character.

2. Take a trip to the local graveyard

There’s something interesting about thinking of names while walking around, right? You just need to be mindful of what era the novel is set in, otherwise you could wind up with a futuristic sci-fi thriller populated by Gertrudes and Arthurs.

3. Choose names as a form of revenge!

You could pull a ‘Richard Curtis’ and name unpopular characters after people you don’t like, as revenge for past slights and injustices. I do wonder if this might derail the project a little though!

4. Find baby name lists on the internet

This is my go-to method. Although it’s the least exciting, it gets the job done and you can always change the characters’ names later on. Sometimes you just need to start writing.

5. Research the era

If writing historical fiction, it can be useful to look through archive materials such as newspapers, journals and letters. Chances are, this will form part of your wider research anyway. Just beware of all of your character names sounding too dated or being difficult to pronounce. This can be a problem with fantasy worlds as well – an option could be to take a common name and change it slightly to make it your own.


What about you? I’d love to hear how other people name their characters.

2 thoughts on “How Do You Name Your Characters?

  1. I’d been researching my family history when I started my first novel, ‘Final Reckoning’, and the name of one of my 3x great grandfathers, William James Gregory, seemed to suit my main protagonist. I’ve continued to use that source for my second novel, ‘Tinkers Creek’, and for my current work in progress – I’ve found the names of 131 of my direct ancestors so there is plenty of choice.

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