Once you’ve figured out what your characters look like, it’s time to name them. Surprisingly, I’ve found this more difficult than naming live babies because once you name a baby, you can’t really change your mind. But, you can change your mind when it comes to a naming a character.

Many of my main characters go through three or four names before I choose one.  Somehow, they reject all my ideas until they find one that fits or they tell me their name when I do some deep journaling to get to know them.

Juliet in Romeo and Juliet says, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  Essentially, we can call a person or thing by any name, and it won’t change the essence of that person or thing.  I agree, but it’s important to remember that character names definitely have differing connotations, especially when it comes to fictional characters. Romeo and Gertrude just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

When naming your characters, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  1. Character names should match the character’s personality. For example, to me a “Priscilla” would be, well, prissy, while someone named “Scarlet” would probably be sexier and more outgoing. You can have “power” names, wimpy sounding names, wealthy names. Choose wisely to make sure your character will live up to (or down to) their name.
  2. Character names should reflect the time period. Somebody born in the 1920’s probably wouldn’t be named Taylor, but Henry would work. You can check “most popular baby name” lists to find out what names were popular during your time period.
  3. A character’s name should reflect the genre. If you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi, it’s okay to combine your two favorite names such as Shelby and Brianna to get “Elbyanna” for a character’s name, but that probably wouldn’t work as well in a contemporary YA story.
  4. A name should NOT sound funny. We’ve all heard stories of some where can i buy bupropion poor woman named Ima Hog. Say your names out loud and listen. Do they sound like something weird? Have you inadvertently made your name sound like a bad word? Does the name have an odd nickname that doesn’t work with the last name?
  5. A name should be easy to say and spell. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Have you ever tried to talk about a favorite book with a friend to find that you pronounce the main character’s names differently? It’s super annoying.
  6. Names should start with different letters than other characters. If all your characters’ names start with J (Jennifer, John, Joann), S or C, it can be confusing and even annoying for your reader. This isn’t to say that you can’t use the same letters for the first and last names. This makes them memorable. For example, Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit has a great name.
  7. Names should sound different than other characters. You don’t want to have a character cast filled with Sam, Tom, Pam, Ann, and Dan. Vary the number of syllables, and the ending sounds, or you might confuse your reader.

Put it in Action

1) Write a brief description of your character and what they do in your story. For example, you might write, “A teen girl with cancer who falls in love with a kid from her cancer group” (A Fault in Our Stars). Or, “A abused teen boy who rejects his family and chooses an entirely new life, but he never fully escapes” (Divergent).

2. Ask a few friends what they would “name” this character.

3. You can also do the opposite. List a few potential names for your characters.

4. Then, ask a few friends to describe somebody with that name.

5. Once you’ve got some ideas, run them through the above guidelines, and choose your name. Remember you can always change it later if you don’t like your first choice.

What’s your favorite character name that you’ve come up with? Share them in the comments below.