author, creative writing, writing

Creating Characters: Choosing Names

Good morning word warriors, I hope you’re having a royally wonderful weekend.

I seem to have a bit of a mini blog series going on about creating characters. Previously, I’ve discussed physical character traits and positive and negative personality traits. But today, I’m going to talk about choosing character names.

Personally, choosing character names is hit and miss for me. Some characters just come to me with a name already. Easy! But others don’t, and sometimes it can take a while before you pick out a name that you think really suits a character. Take a look at some of my thoughts on character naming below…

1. You don’t always need to be too clever
There is a lot of joy in reading a wonderful book and then discovering that the character names all match their personalities, their hidden secrets and their lives. Think Harry Potter for example, where almost every name has a deeper meaning. Especially Remus Lupin and Sirius Black, whose identities and secrets are heavily hinted at in their names. And I don’t disagree with doing this. I think it is a wonderful, clever insight especially in fantasy stories. However, you don’t always need to be too clever. Your character can be called “Rachael” simply because that’s the name that you’ve chosen. There doesn’t need to be a secret or clever reason for this. Just use the names that feel and sound right to you.
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2. Use baby name books
When I was a young teenager a friend once asked why I had a baby name book on my desk in my bedroom. She was a little surprised that 13 year old me may already be picking out baby names. But I wasn’t! It was all for my novel writing. Baby name books are a great way to find inspiration. They have lists and lists, meaning you may find the perfect name that you wouldn’t have thought of on your own. For those of you who do want the name meaning to be significant, baby name books usually include a meaning and origin too, which can be really helpful.

3. The importance of nicknames
Nicknames can play a really important part in defining characters, their personalities and their relationships. In fact in my current novel, my character has a nickname that is vital to the story, so much so that the story couldn’t work without it. (Ooooo, mysterious!)
But nicknames can do so much for a character. The people who use the nickname are probably going to be friends, family or a partner. Different people may have different nicknames or pet names for that person. And nicknames can also help readers understand little quirks or traits that your character embodies. (Though do note, not every character needs a nickname. You don’t want to make things too confusing or over the top.)
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4. Consider pronunciation difficultiesย 
This is particularly important if you are writing for children, who may struggle to pronounce names that are complicated or have unique spellings. If you’re going to use such names, offer an opportunity to ‘sound it out’ – but make sure it’s natural. I’m going to use Harry Potter as an example again here. Think of Hermione helping Krum at the Yule Ball, as his accent and language barrier means he can’t say her name properly. This was a great chance for J.K. to help readers who had struggled with Hermione’s name to know the true pronunciation.

Do you enjoy naming your characters? It’s one of my favourite processes, as it really makes them real and personable. Comment your thoughts below or contact me anytime if you’d like to discuss more.

Until then,
Keep writing,

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37 thoughts on “Creating Characters: Choosing Names”

  1. Naming characters is, for me, one of the hardest things, second only to naming the book/series. And for naming elves (which are dominant in my story) I can’t really use real names.
    As for point 4, one of my characters had maybe 5 working names I discarded, just because I could not figure out how to spell them even in my native language, let alone in English. She was eventually named Aphelia, a mix of Aphrodite and Ophelia (both greek).
    There’s also Redshard noble family, named simply because they got their fame and wealth from owning mines rich on rubies – I think that’s the case of not really imaginative name but working well enough.
    And for naming dwarves, I adjust names from members of Scandinavian metal bands.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank for sharing your process. I think in fantasy it is definitely harder to name characters, so you have a huge challenge there! The name Aphelia is beautiful though, as is the way you came up with it. Best of luck as you continue with your story. x

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post. One of my best sources for names is obituaries. Because I write historical fiction, regional and chronological differences in names really matter. Some names simply didn’t exist in certain times periods or in certain locales.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I love naming characters! For me, they never really quite come to life on the page until I’ve found the right name for them. And I think I spend more time on baby naming sites than most expectant parents do ๐Ÿ˜‚

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Great tips, M! Iโ€™ve found myself Googling many a name for the meaning, and then usually deciding which name to go with when I find out a certain name actually relates to the story (so cool when that happens). One pet peeve I have with character names is when the author adds too many names that are similar. Itโ€™s the same as when youโ€™re watching a movie and all the male characters have the same hair colour and a beard. Totally confusing ๐Ÿ˜….

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Haha yes that is very true! You get half way through a chapter before realising you thought it was a different character you were following. ๐Ÿ™‚ I love naming characters though! It’s like having children, and decisions are made with same level of care, I reckon!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s odd: I don’t know where the names come from, but once I commit they’re stuck with it. I came up with two odd names in the novel I just completed. The main character was Gibson. That came from an old 1980’s movie ‘The Sure Thing’. There was something about it that I liked.

    The other name I choose was Dempsey. My old roommate had a Jack Dempsey fish that I liked so I stole the name. Funny how we do things, isn’t it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Bryan thanks for sharing! I love those names and the way you came about them – very cool! You are right too, once you have a name it sticks. I considered changing one of my character names as it was my cousins name, but I just couldn’t. Some characters come to you with their names already attached! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  6. One should choose a name that is fairly unique, but at the same time doesn’t stand out. Ian Fleming did that with James Bond. The irony is is that he is now probably one of the most famous characters in fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree! You don’t want to be too bland and unoriginal, but sometimes you can’t be too weird and wacky either. I think it’s the same with ‘Harry Potter.’ An ordinary name for an extraordinary boy! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Naming characters doesn’t come easy for me. My preferred method is to google the government records that list the most popular one hundred baby names for a particular year. Records go back quite some way, and I figure that readers will identify with names popular in particular generations.
    Nicknames are important too. The name needs to have the ability to be shortened.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great idea, and you’re very right about choosing names that are relevant to the time in which the story is set. I really do love the nicknames things, I think it’s a great way to show character relationships. Thanks for commenting! โค

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I take part in a weekly flash fiction challenge where you write 100 words to a photo prompt. Much of the time, I start off by considering the age of the charcter and names that almost define that age group. My Mum’s name is Joan and she talks about being at the younger end of the Joans. David and Catherine were popular when I was growing up and you don’t hear them that much anymore. They were overdone, along with Amanda.
    I particularly appreciated what you said about nicknames and I’ve overlooked that before. However, my 14 year old son has nicknames for many of his mates. I’ll be interviewing him in the morning now.
    Best wishes,

    Liked by 1 person

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