Character Basics: Choosing A Name [Character Development]

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What’s one of the first things you do to create your character? You come up with a name.

Well… Sometimes it’s difficult and I’ll admit I’ll throw in a random name and keep it bolded until I change it later.

For the sake of this post, we’re going to pretend the first thing we always do is name our characters.

A name is the most important thing you can give to your characters. It’s their identity and it separates them from everyone else inside the story and outside. Give them a name your readers will remember and appreciate. When you hear the name Harry Potter, you instantly know who I’m talking about, right?

Choosing A Name For Your Characters | Character Development | Creative Writing | Creating Characters | RachelPoli.com

1. Name Dice

I talked about this app when talking about fun ways to create characters. This is a free app I have on my iPad that does exactly what it says. You tap the screen to roll a pair of dice, one reveals a first name and the other reveals a surname.

It’s a great randomizer when you don’t know what to name your characters. It’ll give you ideas for other characters as well.

2. Baby Name Books

Go to your local bookstore or library and pick out some baby naming books. Most of them include genders, origin, and meanings, which is extremely helpful when finding a good name for your character. The baby name book I have even had sections based on “names based on flowers” or “names based on gems” and the like.

3. Baby Name Genie

This is a website where you type in the last name and you can choose or gender if you want. The genie will then find the perfect first and middle name to go along with the last name. You can do this as many times as you like and I always find it a fun way to discover new names.

How do you typically come up with names for your characters? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to chat!

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33 thoughts on “Character Basics: Choosing A Name [Character Development]

  1. Sometimes I’ll find a name whilst watching TV or listening to music. The baby names book is something I’ve consulted as well. Didn’t know about the dice app, thanks!

  2. Many of the characters of my fictional universe come from a distinct region, so I’ve tried to make their names phonetically or thematically similar. (They live in a vast forest, so I’ve used suffixes like ‘leaf’, etc. for surnames). I think it adds a flare of culture to that set of characters.

  3. Would it be weird to say that one of the ways I come up with character names is ‘just a feeling’? Or sometimes I could be watching something and a name just sticks with me, so as soon as I have an idea that says “yes this is [insert name]’s story” I put that character there.

    Right now I’m very partial to the name Yuri because I have been watching so much anime lately.

    But I have check baby name sights before. Or sites that talk about prefix and suffix, or names with meanings.

    • Oh, yeah. There have been plenty of times when I’ve come up with a name on a whim like that. There are no special ties to it, it’s just who the character is. 🙂

  4. Don’t worry about that Herminia. We’re all guilty of that from time to time. I mainly choose a name by picking a name that is quite unique but at the same time doesn’t stand out because that way you make the character believable as well as individual. In the nearly thirty years that I have been writing I have recycled titles of books before but this was mainly in my adolescence. I don’t do it now though. Sometimes when I write historical novels I choose a name that is authentic to the time, i.e. Flora or Phyllis to give two examples. However when I write contemporary stories I do the same but make them believable for now of course someone is less likely to be called Phyllis now then they were 100 years ago.

    Interestingly enough that is how Ian Fleming chose James Bond, because it didn’t stand out. He got the name from the author of a book on the island’s birds and another interesting fact is that Goldeneye is a species of bird, but of equal interest is that it was never one of the original novels.

    Any thoughts on this would be welcome and feel free to check out my book ‘The Hartnetts’, which is available for download at Amazon.

    • Coming up with a name that’s relevant to the time period and location is key as well. Some people don’t notice or don’t mind, but you want to try to stay as true to real life as possible, despite it being fiction.

      That’s a fun fact about James Bond! The name certainly stands out now, lol.

  5. I like to choose names based on meaning, so I’ll use baby books sometimes, but my favorite is the site behindthename.com. You can search for names based on meaning and origin. It’s where I get almost all of my names.

    • I used to always go by meaning as well, but I don’t always now. I think I’ve heard of that website though. If it’s the one I’m thinking of, it’s great.

  6. Picking the right name for a character is as important to me as the cover or the first chapter. Sometimes I don’t name them until I’m 3 or 4 chapters into the story. Just so I get the proper feel for the right name.

  7. As a writer of fantasy and historical fiction, names are not so straigtforward as for a writer of a modern novel. For my historical names, I use websites to choose from. There are many such. I’ve used Roman, Celtic and Viking naming sites for my historical novels.
    I do not like fantasy novels that use Earth names. Would someone really be called, for example, Brian, if he were living in a completely different world? I often take a couple of Earth names, split them, then reassemble them. for example, a character called Davrael, in my Wolves of Vimar series, I took the names David and Michael, split them into Dav and Id then Mich and Ael. Putting them together gave Da-ael. That was not quite right, so I added an ‘r’, thus forming Davrael. It could have been Michid, Idmich, Michid, Davmich… You get the picture.
    Another way I use is to simply play with characters on my keyboard until a name appears. Again, in The Wolves, I used this to generate Almoro.
    Occasionally, a name just pops into my head, like Carthinal, my main protagonist in The Woves of Vimar.

    • I totally agree. It certainly depends on the genre you’re writing in as well as the time period and even the setting – real or not. I’ve scrambled common names before to come up with fantasy-like names. Thanks for your input.

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