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.

 

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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.

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