Naming Characters

Naming characters—always fun and absolutely fundamental to your story. You may craft a character in your mind, but you don’t know who he or she is until they’re named. Sometimes characters are okay with having their names changed a few times before you settle on a name, but other characters are incredibly stubborn, and they will not let you rename them no matter the consequence. Regardless, it is important to give much thought to what you will name your characters. For some people this comes easily, but others may struggle.

If you’re writing a story, and the characters are named with usual everyday names (e.g. Brandon Riley), you have a few options:

  1. The phonebook. Yes, who uses a phonebook anymore? Writers, of course. It’s almost like a dictionary of names. Find a last name you like, and mix-match it with a first name.
  2. Name sites such as http://www.aussiethings.com.au/babynames/ (fantastic source with lots of names and alternative versions of names), http://www.behindthename.com/ (another great source, and it gives a bit of info on the history of the name), and http://surnames.behindthename.com/ (surnames can be complicated, but this site has a database full of them plus their history).
  3. Facebook (or any social media outlet). If you’re in groups on Facebook or just have a lot of friends or followers, sometimes you’ll notice their names, and you can mix-match names you find there as well, not basing the character off those people but merely borrowing the name. (Don’t take someone’s complete name without first asking though. That’s the proper thing to do.)

Now, if you’re writing a story that requires more complicated names such as fantasy or science fiction, you can make up your own names, rearrange the letters, and experiment with different sounds, or you could use name generators. Here are two helpful ones although there are many more you can find on the Internet:

http://www.seventhsanctum.com/index-name.php (this site has generators not only for character names but also for taverns, ships, creatures, realms etc.)

http://www.rinkworks.com/namegen/

Now, say you got a name that you like, but it’s not exactly what you want. It’s close enough, but you think it can be better. That’s when you start getting creative. Say you have this name: Eldther. It doesn’t sound exactly how you expected, so you start playing around:

Eldther—say you want to emphasis the ‘th’

Elther—still doesn’t have a strong ‘th’ sound

El’Ther—ah, much better.

Sometimes you have to change letters around to find the name you want. Say you have the name ‘Kelfurn’—you don’t like it too much, but you see potential. You know ‘ph’ makes the ‘f’ sound, so you try this:

Kelphurn

This makes you wince, so you take off the ‘L’:

Kephurn

You don’t like the ‘phurn’ at the end because it reminds you of the word ‘churn’, so you change and omit some letters:

Kephor

How would that be with an ‘L’ again?

Kelphor

It’s beginning to look okay, but is that the best you can do?

Kolphor

Still not strong enough

Kolphoroth

Good but too long

Kolroth

Hmm, interesting, but not there yet:

Kol’Roth

Much better, but now you’re torn between Kol’Roth and Kolphor. All this from Kelfurn. You see how names can evolve?

Now, yes, authors can and do come up with names of their own because the character tells them immediately. I had one character for that. her name was Glastila. She told me what it was, and I had to figure out how to spell it. Sometimes we writers have a hard time pronouncing the names we come up with, but we figure it out before too long.

A similar approach could be taken when creating names for locations or vehicles. The Internet is a valuable resource, so take advantage of it. Remember, when you find something you like, try to make it unique to you and your story.

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2 comments on “Naming Characters

  1. Reblogged this on totiltwithwindmills and commented:
    This is a useful site especially as we’re in the midst of NaNoWriMo! I know at the moment I’m struggling with some naming difficulties. Mine is place names more than just character names, but name struggles are something everyone can relate to as a writer.

  2. This is a great post! Thank you for writing it. At the moment I have a couple names in my NaNo story that have “placeholder names” which are essentially just temporary names until I find better options. Only a couple have completely solidified names.

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