Write Tip: 10 Tips For Naming Characters

One of the most important tasks for a writer is creating character names. Everyone has their own approach. Some find it more challenging than others. Here’s 10 Tips which might help you with the naming.

1) Keep A List. Mary Robinette Kowal kept a spreadsheet of names when writing Shades Of Milk And Honey as a handy reference. So keeping a list is a tool professionals already know about. For one thing, when researching a particular period or locale, names are often unique to the period and locale. Keeping A List is a way to stay true to your research. For another, sometimes you’d rather focus creative energy on other details than stopping to think up names. Having a list can save time and focus.

2) Write The Story First. Some people use filler names until their plot, characters and worldbuilding are complete, naming the characters Scott or Bill or Mary or Linda as they write with the plan to go back later and research appropriate names. This seems particularly useful if you’re a pantser, when the characters don’t reveal themselves until late into a project, well into their arcs. In this way, you can write with the filler names but later find names which fit them better.

3) Draw From People You Know. My friends and family get a kick out of their names popping up in my stories. I’ve named both characters and worlds after my mother, for example. Sometimes I spell it differently just to make it more science fictional or something. Still, they know where it came from. I usually don’t even have to ask. In your case, if you don’t know how they’d feel, always ask. And one other bit of advice: don’t choose unlikable characters to name after them. No one wants a jerk to share their name. And in this case, they’ll be wondering if it’s a reflection of your opinion of them. So use them but do it respectfully and with permission.

4) Use a Name Generation Tool. There’s all sorts out there like: The Fantasy Name Generator, Dwarf Name Generator, Character Name Generator,  Elven Name Generator, etc. Some are charts you use to compile names, others generate them. Either way, you can come up with interesting names or even prompts. My tendency is to generate names then modify them to make them my own. After all, other writers probably use the same tool. But the value of them is stimulating your thinking and generating ideas as much as actual names themselves.

5) Use A Baby Name List. Lots of these exist, even whole dictionaries. If they fit your time period and milieu, they may be the perfect solution.

6) Use A Dictionary of Names. These often include both modern and historical names from which you can pick with more variety to better fir your characters. Again,t hey must fit your time period and milieu, but they can be an important resource for names.

7) Science Fiction Names Don’t Have To Sound Like It. Combine common names to make a new one: Veronica and Donna, for example, can become Donica. Use mythological or biblical names. Whatever you do, make sure they’re both easy to pronounce and spell. Readers and reviewers may use them a lot.

8 ) Use Terms Of Endearment. People often refer to each other by nicknames or pet names, why shouldn’t your characters? This should not be used in lieu of actually naming them but can be the name their most known by and remembered by from your story.

9) Pick Opposing Names. If you name your antagonist and protagonist with opposing  names, the names themselves add to the conflict between characters.

10) Use Names From Other Cultures.  It can be very interesting, for example, to name aliens with African names or Brazilian names or mix in names from various cultures to add spice to your worldbuilding. Names not only tell you a lot about a character but also about their world. Employ that to make your world more vivid.

There you go, 10 Tips to help you name characters. I hope they give you some ideas you haven’t thought of and maybe even some resources.

For what it’s worth…

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.