Posted in Writing

How to Name Your Characters

Naming Your Characters: First Names

Your name is part of what makes you you. That’s no different from the characters in your story.

Some people say that names aren’t important. It’s the description and development throughout the story that creates loveable, relateable characters.

I think names are pretty important as well. Plus, they’re a lot of fun.

There are two ways I come up with names for my characters:

1. I check the meanings behind them.

I love to look up various names and check their meanings. It makes the character feel more one with the story, if that makes any sense.

I think it shows that you put thought into the name of your character. It shows that your character is important to the plot somehow. It’s like the Story Gods have chosen that name for your character because they have a big destiny to fulfill–which is your plot.

For example, in the very first novel I wrote, Diary of a Lover, I named the protagonist Venus. Venus is love-struck by a boy in her class. She comes on too strong. She doesn’t know how to take no for an answer.

Knowing that little bout of information about her, I chose the name Venus for a few reasons.

One, Venus is also known as the Goddess of Love. The meaning of her name is literally “love.” Right off the bat, that tells you something about Venus.

Two, Venus is a unique name that you don’t hear very often. This makes her stand out as a character. It tells you she is someone important. Plus, because it’s not a common name, you’ll always think of her when you think of Venus.

2. I do the complete opposite of checking the meaning–I come up a random name on my own.

This kind of contradicts everything I just said, but there are no right or wrong ways to name your characters.

If you create a character and a name suddenly pops into your head… Use it. There was probably a reason that name was your first instinct.

For example, I came up with the name George for my George Florence series because I was trying to think of a “goofy” name. At first, George was a goofy detective, but George Constanza from Seinfeld popped into my head. Thus, George was born. I don’t know what made me think of Seinfeld, but the name stuck.

George’s personality has changed drastically since then, but I’ve written George for a few years now that he has just become one with his name. He’s grown into it and it suits him.

Names can have a lot of meaning behind the characters. Choose wisely.

I have a baby name book that I tend to use a lot, but here are some of my favorite websites to find names:

Baby Names
Baby Name Genie
Behind the Name
Fantasy Name Generator

Did you like this post? You can read about Last Names here!

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Author:

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Rachel Poli is a writer and blogger. She has an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education and a bachelor’s degree in English Studies. She enjoys writing young adult novels, middle-grade, and children’s picture books. She is currently working on her first novel.

66 thoughts on “How to Name Your Characters

  1. This is always something I have trouble with, whether it be for an online game or for a book I’m writing, I always have trouble thinking of one.

    I’ve drafted the first book in a series I’m hoping to write , the reason I mention this is because one of the names of the characters is Joshua Gonzales . He is a fast runner and I had that in mind when naming him. And when trying to think of a last name Gonzales come to mind because of the cartoon mouse speedy Gonzales! So your second point speaks volumes to me! But your first point has made me think! Thank you for the insight!

    1. I’m glad you found this post helpful!
      It’s always fun to add in hidden meanings behind your character’s name. I think it makes it more personable to the readers and helps them truly understand the character.

      1. I think so too 🙂 it’s definitely something I’m going to use going forward in my writing. Hidden meaning in stories always make me marvel at the writer. To be able to plan things that well is definitely a talent and one I wish to acquire to my writers tool belt!

      2. I like leaving the clues in the story but still hopefully taking the reader by surprise. For them to go, oh wow! I didn’t see that coming!

  2. This is exactly what I do, including the baby name book. That little tool has caused some awkward conversations too. Usually ones that start with ‘Congratulations. Boy or Girl?’ and me staring blankly before I figure out what’s going on.

    Have you ever had anyone tell you to change a character’s name and act like it’s no big deal? That happened to me a while back and it’s still one of the most irritating moments of my life. Just wondered if other authors face that.

    1. Oh yeah, when I bought my baby name book the cashier thought I was pregnant. That was a fun conversation.
      I don’t think I’ve ever had someone tell me to change one of the names. Not that I can recall anyway. I’m sure that is irritating, though. I know it would frustrate me.
      The person who suggested a name change, were they a writer, editor, or just a friend?

      1. After a while, you end up messing with people. Like ‘But I don’t have a girlfriend’ or ‘I need help naming my toes’. Just weird and silly stuff that tells you if the person is fun to interact with or a pill. 😛

        It was someone who ran a writer’s workshop. My main character’s name is ‘Luke Callindor’. She thought the existence of ‘Luke Skywalker’ meant I should change the first name. The thing is that he’d been Luke for 5 years at this point. A friend tried to help by suggesting a respelling like Luk, Luc, or other things that would require an accent or something. I stuck to the name since it made no sense to change it due to there already being a popular Luke character. I mean, it’s a real name too, so it isn’t like George LUKE-AS invented it. 😀

      2. I don’t see that as a reason to rename your character either. Especially since Luke Skywalker is fictional as well. And you didn’t give your character the same last name as Skywalker, lol.

      3. People are fickle like that, I guess. There used to be a guy in my group (he’s not part of the group anymore) who was extremely nit-picky like that.

      4. True. Just by looking on my Facebook feed, seems a lot of people simply want to find something to complain about or criticize. Kind of a shame because the mentality makes it so hard to enjoy things.

      1. I think he may have mentioned in his book “On Writing” or in an interview. It’s really quite insightful and witty, but that is Stephen King so I wouldn’t expect any less ( :

  3. I agree that your name is what makes you you. With my name you wouldn’t expect me to say anything else.
    I write historical romance, so naming characters tends to be a bit more difficult than looking at baby name books. When I’m doing research, I write down names that I haven’t come across before so that my characters fit into their times.
    It’s quite interesting when a character rejects their name. I was writing about a William who kept insisting he was a Mark, so now he’s Mark, which suits him much more.

    1. Yeah that’s another thing. You need to be consistent with the time period you’re writing in.
      And sometimes the characters choose their own names, which is great. 🙂

  4. I use names that sound right to me. I have an idea of how a person with such a name will act or the other way around, think of someone’s name and see if their character/personality matches my characters.

    1. That’s a good idea. There are some names when I think of people I know in real life. Not trying to base a character off of them, but just brainstorming and getting a feel for the character and name. We have to start somewhere.

  5. I’m usually a follower of your second approach there. I don’t know how much you know about Greek/Roman mythology, but the fact that Venus in your novel comes on too strong is a huge characteristic of Venus/Aphrodite. They didn’t like to be told no at all haha.

    Also, I never really thought about making the name match. I always just felt my way around until the name feels right to me. Next time I have a hard time naming someone, I’ll take a look at their meanings.

    Happy writing!

    1. Yeah Venus has a strong personality. I don’t know too much about the mythology, but I did do a little research when naming her.
      Glad you liked the post and thanks!

  6. I write mainly fantasy. I can’t stand fantasy authors who use ‘normal’ names. This seems just lazy on the part of the author. After all, these are people in a whole alternate universe and so they shouldn’t have Earth names.

    To come up with names, if I’m completely stuck I do one of two things. I decide what letter the name should start with and then play around with letters on my keyboard, thinking about where vowels should go etc.

    Another thing I do is to take two names, split them in half and join half of each to the other. In this way, I came up with the name Davrael for a character in one of my fantasy series. This is a combination of the first part of David and the last part of Michael.

    Of course, sometimes a name just pops into my head. An example of this is Carthinal, the main protagonist in the same series.

    1. That’s an interesting idea–taking one part of two names and sticking them together. When ai write fantasy names, I scramble the letters of normal names or spell them backwards.

      1. Good idea too. I’ll try it when I next create a new character.

        Names are important, too. I nearly didn’t read Feist’s fantastic Midkemia series because I thought the name Pug was silly. I still do, and it irritates me when I read another of his books.

      1. I’m following you now! I thought I already was following. I remember looking at your boards a couple times before. I must have just never clicked the button, lol.

  7. I personally understand the importance of a name. Just before I was born, my paternal grandmother died. My father wanted to call me after her, but my mother, God bless her, refused saying they could give me her second name instead as my second name. So I grew up as Vivienne Mary insread of Edith Mary. I have often said that I feel I would be a different person but for my mother!

  8. Nice post…my problem is I have too many names . I want a definitive name for my main character for my detective … I have tried single name and I thought of intitals and a last name so it has a air of mystery and I tried a short name…how to I decide on a name?

    1. Sometimes the character will choose for you. Go with your gut and just write. As you go along, new personality traits might appear and a better name may suit the character.

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