Saturday, January 7, 2012

How Do You Pick a Character Name?

I love, and hate, coming up with character names. With some characters the name just comes to me. Sometimes it is a common name that you could hear anywhere. Sometimes it is a name that is totally fictional.

But most of the time I struggle to come up with names for my characters. It is so hard. I feel like a characters name embodies who they are. So picking a name can be very difficult for me.

So where do I find my character names? (The ones that don't just come to me, that is.)

Baby name books and websites.

When I was in... oh I was young. Let's just leave it at that. When I was young I went to the book store and purchased two baby name books. I remember being in the story and having this lady look at me weird. Because I was a teenager. It was so annoying I actually called her on it and told her what I was buying the books for. I don't think she believed me.

I digress, back to the topic: When I create new worlds for my fantasy novels, I often have an existing culture or group of cultures that I base it off of. So when I go to name characters I want something the embodies that existing culture. For example, if my fictional kingdom is a mix between Celtic and Chinese culture - I want a name that sounds both Celtic and Chinese. This is where the websites come in handy. I just do a Google search for "Celtic Names" or "Chinese Names" read through a few and the choose, or alter a name.

I have even used this same method for naming places.

How do you find names for your characters?


  1. Characters' names can be so hard. I love those baby name websites. Since I write fantasy, I also play around with names and sometimes use those name generators.

  2. I mix and match last names from the corporate address book at work. I also look in my spam folder and use the names of spammers.

  3. @Cherie - When I am picking names for fantasy I like to mess with spelling and rearrange letters to make themcsoumd more unusual.

    @Dan - That's an interesting tactic. Never tried it before.

  4. I definitely use baby name websites. Also, I'll use most popular name lists by year. Like if I want an older sounding name I'll look up the top names in 1930 or something. I just look until I see something that matches the character in my head.

  5. Because I feel that you do a lot to help writers find motivation and skills all while having fun! I have given you and award! Come check it out on my little blog! ;D

  6. Hi, new follower! I utilize hardcopy language dictionaries: German, Latin, French, etc... I prefer to leaf through because while looking for an idea I may happen across a trait in which the translation sounds very appealing, or an anagram of another useful word. Sometimes names come to me, and sometimes I have to pull out the reference books!

  7. @Megan - That's a good idea.
    @Wily - Thanks!
    @Julius - Oh! Dictionaries are a great idea! Sometimes... okay a lot - I mistype or misspell words - and sometimes those make great names.

  8. Naming characters is such fun! I browse the baby name sites all the time. Though, sometimes, a character names her/himself. There's been a few that the name was great and a few I didn't like. Yet the character refused to let me change their name!

  9. The leading gal in my current WIP is named after a Twitter friend, Kalen. I thought it was cool so just went with it. The leading guy in the story is named after a guy whose the lead singer of a band I know. Jonas...ahh...yes, who can't love a guy named Jonas.

    Bottom line: I think I just always have my ears open for cool sounding names. (I've Googled baby names for characters plenty of times, too!)

  10. @Christine - That happens to me too. In my current WIP I have two main characters and one minor character that named themselves.

    @Bethany - That's a good way of doing it. I will have to try that.

  11. Character names can be really hard. I know that I've had characters that started out as one name and switched to another. A lot of the time, the name is picked from a baby website when I am searching name meanings to find the perfect one. In my WIP, Edom is the name that I picked and it is Hebrew based. So working with that, his sister's name is Liora and that is also Hebrew based. It's my "name theme" for the story. :)