Write Tip: Resources & Thoughts On Character Naming

Recently I’ve been copyediting The Very Best Book Of Baby Names by Barbara Kay Turner, and it’s gotten me thinking a lot about naming characters.  Character naming is an important consideration for many reasons. One, you want memorable names which stick with readers for a long time. Two, you want names that are decipherable by readers’ minds i.e. names they can sound out mentally somehow. Three, you want names that make sense in the culture and world and follow some sort of decipherable pattern or at least seem to fit together as classes based on people groups, etc. Four, names can have symbolic meanings which play a role in defining characters. Sometimes the formality or informality of it is important. A character who calls another by a nickname is assume to have a closer relationship with that character than another person who uses the formal name. I’m sure I could list other considerations.

I’ve posted on naming considerations before in Write Tips here, but what a great resources this naming book has turned out to be. I highly recommend the purchase of it or one like it by all authors.  Delabarre Publishing is coming out with an ebook version of Turner’s book very soon, for example.

The beauty of books like this is that they examine names based on a number of helpful factors:  genetic appropriateness, tradition, popularity, cultural origins, spellings, usages, etc. They dig into how names are created and used and all sorts of considerations which many authors might not even consider in choosing names. Names can be a way to say a whole lot with very few letters: about your character, your world, etc. There’s so much to think about when writing a book. Some authors spend years considering every little detail, others make decisions quickly and move on to the work of prose. There’s no wrong or right if it works in the end, but internalizing some of this information can add depth to your choices and weapons to your arsenal which will improve your writing and the reading experience for readers of your work.

Here are some examples of charts which could be useful from Turner’s book:

Traditional Boys’ Names (Western world)

Aaron
Adam
Alan, Allen, Albert
Alexander
Andrew, Drew
Anthony
Arthur
Benjamin
Bradley
Brian, Bryan <—- For some reason, I’m really attached to this one
Bruce
Carl, Karl
Charles
Christopher
Colin
Craig, Greg, Gregory
Curtis
Daniel
David
Dennis
Derek
Donald
Douglas
Edgar, Edward, Edwin
Eric, Erik
Ethan
Eugene, Gene
Evan
Frank, Francis
Gabriel
Garrett
George
Gerald
Grant
Henry
Ivan
Jacob
James
Jared
Jason
Jeffrey
Jeremy
Joel
John, Jonathan
Jordan
Joseph
Joshua
Julian
Justin
Keith
Kenneth
Kevin
Lawrence
Louis
Luke
Mark
Martin
Matthew
Michael
Mitchell
Nathan
Nathaniel
Nicholas
Oscar
Patrick
Paul
Peter
Phillip, Philip
Preston
Randall
Raymond
Richard
Robert
Rodney
Roger
Ronald
Ross
Russell
Ryan
Samuel
Simon
Spencer
Steven, Stephen
Stuart
Theodore
Thomas
Timothy
Trent
Victor
Vincent
Walter
Wayne
William
Zachary

Traditional Girls’ Names (Western world)

Abigai
Adrienne
Alexandra, Alexis
Alice, Alison, Allison
Amanda
Andrea, Ann, Anna, Anne
Barbara
Brenda
Brooke
Candice, Candace
Carol, Carole
Carolyn, Caroline
Catherine
Christine, Christina
Claire
Claudia
Cynthia
Danielle
Deborah, Debra
Denise
Diana, Diane
Elizabeth
Emily
Erica, Erika
Evelyn
Gabrielle
Hannah
Helen
Irene
Jane, Janet
Jessica
Joanne, Joanna
Josephine
Judith
Julia
Justine
Karen
Katherine, Kathryn
Kristen, Kristin
Lara, Lora, Laura, Lauren
Linda
Lindsey, Lindsay
Margaret
Marie, Maria, Mary
Martha
Mercedes
Melinda
Miranda
Natalie
Nicole, Nichole
Olivia
Pamela
Patricia
Priscilla
Rachel, Rachael
Rebecca
Renee, Renae
Roberta
Ruth
Sarah, Sara
Sharon
Stephanie
Susan
Sylvia
Teresa, Therese, Theresa
Veronica
Victoria
Virginia

Okay, those are pretty standard for those of us in the Western World, but they are recognizable and probably frequently jump to mind. What if you want something more exotic or a better mix? How about international names with variant spellings? Some were included on the above list and some were not:

International Names for Girls

Alexandra, Alastar, Alexina (English, Gaelic); Alixandra (French); Alejandra, Allessandra (Spanish/Italian); Alexandra (Scandinavian/ German); Aleksandra(Slavic)

Alice, Ailis, Alison (English, Gaelic); Alice (French); Alicia (Spanish, Italian); Elka (Scandinavian/German); Alisia (Slavic)

Angel, Angelica, Aingeal (English, Gaelic); Angele, Angelique (French), Angelita, Angela (Spanish/Italian); Angelika (Scandinavian/German); Andelka (Slavic)

Ann, Aine (English/Gaelic); Anne (French); Ana/Anna (Spanish/Italian); Anni, Annika (Scandinavian/German); Anya (Slavic)

Barbara, Bairbre (English, Gaelic); Barbe (French); Barbara (Spanish/Italian); Birgit/Brigitta (Scandinavian/German); Brygida (Slavic)

Carol, Carrol (English, Gaelic); Carole (French); Carola/Carolina (Spanish/Italian); Karel/Karol (Scandinavian/German); Karola (Slavic)

Christine, Christina, Kirstie, Cristiona (English, Gaelic); Christine (French); Cristina (Spanish/Italian); Kristin/Kirsten (Scandinavian/German); Krystyna, Kristina (Slavic)

Eleanor, Elinor,  Elionora (English, Gaelic); Eleonore, Alinor (French); Leanor/Eleonora (Spanish/Italian); Leanora/Eleonora (Scandinavian/German); Eleni (Slavic)

Elizabeth, Elspeth (English, Gaelic); Elise (French); Isabel/Elisabetta (Spanish/Italian); Elisabet/Elsbeth (Scandinavian/German); Elzbieta (Slavic)

Frances, Proinseas (English, Gaelic); Francoise (French); Francisca/Francesca (Spanish/Italian); Frans/Franziska (Scandinavian/German); Franciszka (Slavic)

Helen, Aileen (English, Gaelic); Helene (French); Elenor/Lena/Elna/Helena (Scandinavian/German); Alena, Olena (Slavic)

Jane, Sinead, Janet (English, Gaelic); Jeanne (French); Juana/Giovanna, Gianna (Spanish/Italian); Johanna (Scandinavian/German); Jana, Ivana (Slavic)

Katherine, Caitrin, Catriona (English, Gaelic); Catherine, Cateline (French);  Catalina, Caterina (Spanish/Italian); Karin, Katerine (Scandinavian/German); Katrina, Ekaterina (Slavic)

Madeline, Madailein (English, Gaelic); Madeleine (French); Magdalena/Maddelena (Spanish/Italian); Magdalene (Scandinavian/German); Magdalina (Slavic)

Margaret, Mairead (English, Gaelic); Marguerite (French); Margarita/Margherita (Spanish/Italian); Margareta, Margit (Scandinavian/German); Marketa (Slavic)

Mary, Maire, Moira, Mairi (English, Gaelic); Marie, Maree (French); Maria (Spanish/Italian); Marieke/Marie (Scandinavian/German); Marinka, Marya (Slavic)

Susan, Siusan (English, Gaelic); Suzanne (French); Susana/Susanna (Spanish/Italian); Susanne, Sanna (Scandinavian/German); Zuzanna (Slavic)

 

International Names for Boys

Alexander,  Alasdair,  Alistair (English, Gaelic); Alexandre (French); Alejandro, Alessandro (Spanish/Italian); Alexander (Scandinavian/German); Alexsandr, Aleksander (Slavic)

Andrew, Aindreas, Andra (English, Gaelic); Andre (French); Andres/Andrea (Spanish/Italian); Anders/Andrea (Scandinavian/ German); Andrei (Slavic)

Anthony, Antaine (English, Gaelic); Antoine (French); Antonio (Spanish/Italian); Anton (Scandinavian/German); Antoni, Anton (Slavic)

Benedict, Benedict (English, Gaelic); Benoit (French); Benito/Benedetto (Spanish/Italian); Benedikt (Scandinavian/German); Benedek (Slavic)

Charles, Searlas, Cormac (English, Gaelic); Charles (French); Carlos/Carlo (Spanish/Italian); Karl (Scandinavian/German); Karol, Karel (Slavic)

Christopher, Criostoir, Kester (English, Gaelic); Christophe (French); Crisobal/Cristoforo (Spanish/Italian); Christoph, Kristoffer (Scandinavian/German); Krystof (Slavic)

Edmund, Eamon (English, Gaelic); Edmond (French); Edmundo/Edmondo (Spanish/Italian); Edmund (Scandinavian/German); Edmon (Slavic)

Edward, Eamon (English, Gaelic); Edouard (French); Eduardo/Edoardo (Spanish/Italian); Edvard/Eduard (Scandinavian/German); Edvard (Slavic)

Frank, Francis, Proinsias (English, Gaelic); Francois (French); Francisco/Francesco (Spanish/Italian); Frans/Frantz (Scandinavian/German); Franc, Franek (Slavic)

Frederick, Fardoragh (English, Gaelic); Frederic (French); Frederico (Spanish/Italian); Frederik/Friedrich (Scandinavian/German); Fryderyk, Fredek (Slavic)

Geoffrey, Jeffrey, Sieffre, Siofrai (English, Gaelic); Geoffroi (French); Godofredo/Geoffredo (Spanish/Italian); Gottfried (Scandinavian/German); Gotfrid (Slavic)

George, Geordi (English, Gaelic); Georges (French); Jorge/Giorgio (Spanish/Italian); Jorgen/Jeorg (Scandinavian/German); Georgi, Yuri (Slavic)

Gregory, Grigor (English, Gaelic); Gregoire (French); Gregorio (Spanish/Italian); Joris/Greger (Scandinavian/German); Grigor, Grigori (Slavic)

Henry, Einri (English, Gaelic); Henri (French); Enrique/Enrico (Spanish/Italian); Hendrik/Heinrich (Scandinavian/German); Henrik (Slavic)

James, Jacob, Seamus (English, Gaelic); Jacques (French); Jaime/Giacomo (Spanish/Italian); Jakob (Scandinavian/German); Yakov (Slavic)

John, Sean, Shaun, Shane, Ian (English, Gaelic); Jean (French); Juan/Giovanni, Gianni (Spanish/Italian); Jon, Johan (Scandinavian/German); Jan, Ivan (Slavic)

Joseph, Ioseph (English, Gaelic); Josephe (French); Jose/Giuseppe (Spanish/Italian); Josef (Scandinavian/German); Josef, Jozef (Slavic)

Laurence, Lorcan (English, Gaelic); Laurent (French); Lorencio/Lorenzo (Spanish/Italian); Lars, Lorenz (Scandinavian/German); Lavrenti (Slavic)

Lewis, Louis, Llewelyn (English, Gaelic); Louis (French); Luis/Luigi (Spanish/Italian); Ludvig/Ludwig (Scandinavian/German); Ludwik, Ludvik (Slavic)

Luke, Lucas (English, Gaelic); Luc, Lucien (French); Lucas/Lucca (Spanish/Italian); Lukas/Lucius (Scandinavian/German); Lukas, Luka (Slavic)

Mark, Marcas (English, Gaelic); Marc  (French); Marcos/Marco (Spanish/Italian); Markus (Scandinavian/German); Mark, Marko, Marek (Slavic)

Martin, Martainn, Mairtin (English, Gaelic); Martin (French); Martin/Martino (Spanish/Italian); Marten, Martel (Scandinavian/German); Martinas, Martyn (Slavic)

Matthew, Maitias (English, Gaelic); Mathieu (French); Mateo/Matteo (Spanish/Italian); Mattias/Mathias (Scandinavian/German); Matyas, Matei (Slavic)

Michael, Micheal (English, Gaelic); Michel (French); Miguel/Michele (Spanish/Italian); Mikael, Mikkel (Scandinavian/German); Michal, Mikhail (Slavic)

Nicholas, Nicol, Nicolas (English, Gaelic); Nicholas (French); Nicolas/Niccolo (Spanish/Italian); Niklas, Nikolaus (Scandinavian/German); Nikolai (Slavic)

Paul, Pol (English, Gaelic); Paul (French); Pablo/Paolo (Spanish/Italian); Poul, Pavel (Scandinavian/German); Pavlo, Pavlik (Slavic)

Peter, Peadar (English, Gaelic); Pierre (French); Pedro/Pietro (Spanish/Italian); Per, Piet (Scandinavian/German); Pyotr (Slavic)

Philip, Filip (English, Gaelic); Philippe (French); Felipe/Felippo (Spanish/Italian); Filip/Philipp (Scandinavian/German); Filip (Slavic)

Richard, Rickard (English, Gaelic); Richard (French); Ricardo/Riccardo (Spanish/Italian); Rikard/Richert (Scandinavian/German); Rikard, Rostik (Slavic)

Robert, Riobard (English, Gaelic); Robert (French); Roberto (Spanish/Italian); Robert/Ruprecht (Scandinavian/German); Rupert (Slavic)

Stephen, Steven, Steaphan (English, Gaelic); Etienne (French); Esteban/Stefano (Spanish/Italian); Stefan, Stephan (Scandinavian/German); Stefan (Slavic)

William, Liam (English, Gaelic); Guillaume (French); Gillermo/Guglielmo (Spanish/Italian); Vilhelm/Wilhelm (Scandinavian/German); Vilem, Vilmos (Slavic)

Okay, not exotic enough? How about some African names then:

African Names for Girls

Ada (Nigerian) “First daughter.”
Adanna (Nigerian) “Her father’s daughter.”
Aisha, Aysha, Ayeisha (Swahili/Arabic) “Life.”
Alika (Nigerian) “Most beautiful.”
Ama, Ami (Ghanese) “Saturday’s child.”
Amadi (Nigerian) “Rejoicing.”
Amina (Swahili/Arabic) “Trustworthy.”
Ashia (Somali) “Life.”
Aziza (Swahili/Arabic) “Precious.”
Chika (Nigerian) “God is supreme.”
Chinara (Nigerian) “God receives.”
Dalila (Swahili) “Gende.”
Deka (Somali) “Pleasing.”
Folasade (Yoruban) “Honor confers a crown.”
Jamila (Swahili) “Chaste, holy.”
Jina (Swahili) “Name.”
Kalifa, Kalifah (Somali) “Chaste, holy.”
Katifa (Arabic) “Flowering.”
Layla (Swahili) “Dark; born at night.”
Lulu (Tanzanian) “Pearl.”
Marjani (Swahili) “Coral.”
Nadja (Uganda) “Second born.”
Neema (Swahili) “Born in prosperity.”
Ola (Nigerian) “Precious.”
Rasheedah (Swahili/Arabic) “Righteous.”
Sade, Sharde (Yoruban) Short form of Folasade.
Safiya (Swahili) “Pure.”
Shani (Swahili) “A marvel; wondrous.”
Zahra (Swahili) “Flowering.”
Zalika (Swahili/Arabic) “Well-born.”

 

African Names For Boys

Abdalla (Swahili) “God’s servant.”
Ajani (Yoruban) “Struggles to win.”
Aren (Nigerian) “Eagle.”
Chike (Nigerian) “God’s power.”
Ekon (Nigerian) “Strong.”
Faraji (Swahili) “Consolation.”
Haji (Swahili) “Pilgrim to Mecca.”
Hasani (Swahili) “Handsome.”
Jabari (Swahili) “Valiant.”
Kato (Uganda) ‘Twin.”
Mongo (Yoruban) “Famous.”
Nuru (Swahili) “Born in daytime.”
Omari (Swahili) “God the highest.”
Rashidi (Swahili) “Counselor.”
Salim (Swahili) “Peace.”
Tau (African) “Lion.”

Still not enough? Oh man you people are demanding. Okay, how about creating your own names? Here’s some tools which can help you create names that sound common even if they aren’t:

Basic Name Endings

a, i, ee, ie, y, ye, ia, ea, ae, an, en, in, ian, ien

ann, anne, ana, ahna, anna, ani, anni, anee, ianne, ianna

een, ene, ena, enna, ienne, ine, ina, inda, ita

ele, ell, elle, ella, iel, iell, ielle, iela, iella

ess, esse, essa, eesa, eece, iesa, iessa, isha, icia

ette, etta, iette, iara, iera, ille, ila, ilia

iss, isse, issa, ise, isa, ice, ica, icka, ika oni, onie, ona, onna, iona, ionna, ionne

 

Name Endings Plus Consonants

bel, bell, belle, bella

chel, chelle, chele, chella

ceen, cine, cene, cina, cinda, coya, cacia

da, die, dee, del, dell, delle, della

dine, deen, dina, dene, dena, dean, deane, dona, donna

gine, gina, geen, geena, ginny, gini

keisha, kisha, kesha, keesha

kie, kee, kia, keta, kita, keeta, kiya, kira

lana, lani, lanna, londa, linda

lane, laine, laina, layne, layna

lee, lie, lia, lea, leah, lita, leila

lin, linn, linne, linna, lyn, lynn, lynne, lynna

line, lina, leen, leena, lene, lena

lisa, lise, leese, leesa, leeza, liza, licia, lisha

liss, lisse, lissa, lyssa, lesse, lessa

mika, mica, meka, meisha, mesha, misha

nae, naya, nea, nia, nel, nell, nelle, nella

neece, neese, nice, nicia, nesha, neisha, nisha, niesha

ness, nesse, nessa, neesa, nissa, nisa

net, nette, netta, nita, nica, nika, niqua, nique

nille, neille, neil, nora

quise, quita, quetta

rae, raia, ray, raya, raye, raine, raina, rayna

ree, reese, rice, rise, risa, rysa, ressa

rell, relle, risse, rissa, reesha, rona, ronna, ronda

rene, reen, rina, rena, rienna, rill, rille

sha, shah, shay, shae, shai, saundra, sondra

shan, shana, shanna, shonna, shawna, shaunda

te, tee, tae, tai, taye, tia, tiya, tel, telle

teen, teena, tine, tina, tana, tasha, tisha, tosha

tesse, tessa, tonia, tonya, tori, tory, toria

treece, trice, trise, trisa, tricia

vette, vetta, viette, vietta

von, vonne, vonna, vonda, vona

 

Name Endings Favored For Boys

an, en, in, on, ano, ino, ion, ian, ien, o, yo

andre, andro, aundre, ante, ondre, onte

del, dell, tel, trel, quel

jon, juan, Ion, lonn, leon

mar, mario, marco, marcus, mond, mont, monte

rik, rek, rak, rick, rel, ron, ray

sean, shawn, shaun, shane

van, von, vonn, vaughn, vonte, vel, vell

If those still aren’t enough, maybe you want something a bit more fantastical? Try these sites:  The Fantasy Name GeneratorDwarf Name GeneratorCharacter Name Generator,  Elven Name Generator and there are plenty more.

I hope this is helpful. Love to hear suggestions in the comments below. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novels The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Book Clubs Year’s Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, and The Returning, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and several short stories featured  in anthologies and magazines.  He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 for Flying Pen Press, headlined by Mike Resnick. As a freelance editor, he’s edited a novels and nonfiction.  He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter under the hashtag #sffwrtcht. A frequent contributor to Adventures In SF PublishingGrasping For The Wind and SFSignal, he can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

4 thoughts on “Write Tip: Resources & Thoughts On Character Naming

  1. I could come up with some wild names with the endings alone.
    I’ve tried to keep it simple when naming my characters. I’ve read a lot of speculative fiction that used really long, complicated names and those become difficult to follow. (Or pronounce.) So far I’ve only used one name that would trip people up when reading my books. (Ernx – care to take a guess on that one?)

  2. Sounds like a very useful book.

    One thing to remember when writing about the real world is that the ethnic names listed in name books are not necessarily the names that are fashionable in the country at the moment. I’ve seen a lot of supposedly German characters in the 20s and 30s or even YA characters who have the sort of names that are rarely found in people under 60. My students (I teach at a German highschool) are called Kevin, Jeremy, Glenn, Karina, Charmaine, Anna, Melissa, Christine, Christian, Marc, Ramon, Pascal, Thorben, Tom, Tobias, Sarah or Nina, whereas people called Klaus, Elke, Irmgard, Fritz, Kurt, Ilse, Franz, etc… are my parents’ or grandparents’ generation. And let’s not even start on the social implications of names, such as which names indicate lower class or middle class background.

    So when dealing with ethnic names in the real world from a culture that’s not yours, it’s always advisable to either talk to someone from that culture or at least check baby name statistics for the country in question, if available.

    1. Good advice, Cora, thanks. I agree. I should have mentioned that. I was more focused on the aspect of finding names unusual for our setting to use in fictional worlds, but when incorporating real cultures and history your point is absolutely right. Well said.

  3. Naming characters is very important (as is naming places and things and so on) and I think most genre writers spend a large chunk of time trying to get it just right.

    Sometimes you have to think outside the box, too. My current work features a character named Nicole–but everyone calls her Nike. I chose this for a variety of reasons. One, she’s a businesswoman and Nike is the goddess of victory. Two, I love the idea of disassociating a name from a current connotation–that is to say, getting people to stop thinking about shoes when they hear the name Nike. Three, it sounds damn good. Four, it largely fits with her ethnic background, which is a mix of Greek and Turkish.

    What I’m saying is…I totally support obsessing over characters’ names.

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