Naming Characters – Things to Consider #WritingCommunity


Naming fictional characters is one of those writing activities a non-writer might view as...simple to do. *Sigh*  They probably think we pluck a random name out of thin air, sit down to write and bring that newly named fictional person to life.

Ha! If only naming a fictional character was that simple.

This activity is not simple to do. It can take ages to come up with a name that fits your character, their era and the story.

Also, there’s no guarantee you will like the name you have chosen by the end of your drafting process.

Naming a character can cause the writer all sorts of havoc:

  • The amount of time you will spend thinking about the names of imaginary folk will shock you. Some of us can take weeks, even months!
  • If you struggled naming children, pets or toys – you will find choosing names for characters to be much the same; guaranteed huffing, puffing and hours of googling the hell out of names.
  • Loved ones may panic or get excited when you are caught browsing baby naming sites.
  • It is guaranteed that once you name your character their name will start appearing in real life.
  • If you talk in your sleep you can expect to say your character names. Handy tip – supply your loved one with a sheet full of your current characters so when you are letting off soft moans and saying ‘oh John yes..!’ – they can do a quick check to see whether ‘John’ is fictional or someone they should be worried about. Sigh!
  • Your characters will change throughout the drafting process and it might be that they grow out of their name.
  • The name you have chosen for your character might start to annoy the hell out of you. This can be tough but I have found your story will start to tank once you start grimacing at typing your character’s name.
  • Your character’s name stays with you. Once you give them a name you will struggle to use it for anything else; pets or children etc
  • Every time you use your character’s name – bingo – they appear in your mind. Also linked to this is your general view of the piece of work they featured in. I have found that the names of characters from my bad / ‘pile of literary wrongs’ stories always haunt me the most.
  • During the naming process (which can go on for some time) you will find new appreciation for movie credits! They are great for getting your creative name juices flowing.
  • If your character has children you are also in for a challenging time as naming the offspring of characters will cause more stress.

Here are some things to consider when naming characters:

  • Have a few reserve names up your writer sleeve. It sounds like extra work but believe me when I say disliking a character’s name during the drafting process can be painful and in my experience it can bring on Writer’s Block. When you have a character with a name you loathe and a story with more crater sized plot holes than the moon it can be tough to turn to write.
  • Changing a character’s name mid-drafting can reenergise you and your story. I have done this and it does work.
  • Start with the parents. Think about your character’s parents. Why?  They name your character, not you. Gasp! When I realised this….a little bit of my character naming excitement died. I know this is tough, handing over naming responsibility to other fictional folk, but it’s the most realistic approach. So, after profiling fictional Mum and Dad give some thought to what names were popular at the time when your character was born?  Think about their nationality, culture, setting and the time period. Play the role of the parent and think about what would influence their choice.
  • Nicknames. These are useful as they can reflect how the family and friends of a character perceive them. Useful for characterisation. Plus remember that parents rarely use their children’s proper names; I have so many names for mine.
  • Theme. Link your character’s name to the theme running through your book.
  • Breathe life into your character’s name! Keep saying it whilst listening to how it sounds. Shout it, scream it and whisper it. This sort of thing brings your character to life. It also helps you to see whether their name is believable.
  • Be careful when asking for feedback on character names. It’s a bit like discussing child names – everyone has an opinion and no one will like your preferred name. I would just go on gut instinct.
  • Think of other characters in your story. Make sure you don’t get carried away and give two characters a similar name. I have done this and readers do notice it.

Keep the faith if you are currently looking for a character’s name. The right name will come to you…once you have changed it a few times πŸ˜‰

Have a fabulous day!

Posted by

Still waiting for the Sleepless in Seattle film sequel. Romcom Author. Book Blogger. Mum of teens. Owned by a golden Labrador.

27 thoughts on “Naming Characters – Things to Consider #WritingCommunity

  1. This is literally the hardest part of the writing process for me. ARGHHHH!

    Although in book number four, the three best friends are called Lisa, Lauren and, wait for it … LUCY!

  2. Oh man, you’re right… T’is a toughie!
    And I had to change one character’s name because of similarities in how someone would read them phonetically!
    To actually say the name, they are pronounced differently, but to someone without the Indian background, they could be said too similarly.
    That was hard to do as I loved both names… But I cracked it!

  3. An interesting post, Lucy. I always name my characters right up front and just cannot change their names. My current MC’s are going their own way with their stories and I feel like I am running after them with my pen.

  4. Pronunciation matters, too, I think. I had what I thought was the perfect, German-based name for my 19th century immigrant. No one in my writing group could pronounce it, so I changed it!

  5. I make heavy use of random name generators. They often give first and last names, but I don’t usually use them togetherβ€”I just keep hitting β€œrefresh” until I find two names I like, and that fit the character. Some allow you to customize a bit for ethnicity or how common the name is, and that’s helpful, too. Some characters might be right for an unusual name, others need a real white-bread kind of handle. Oh, and I have had cause to regret naming a character β€œBrian,” as I now have to search every MS meticulously for the times I typed it β€œBrain.”

  6. I love naming my characters. That point about keeping some names up my sleeve is definitely something I need. My favorite thing to do is have a letter in mind and then go on Behindthename to find a name I like but also means something. Though, I had a name in one of my WIPs that I really liked, especially because I didn’t know anyone by that name in real life. But then I met someone with that name, and they annoy the heck out of me, so I had to change it. I can never use that name again.

  7. I know what you mean here, I’ve been putting some random names where I need to just so I can get a name in. When I decide what it will be properly I can do a find and replace.
    How are you doing Lucy?

  8. This is my favourite part of writing! I give more thought to naming my characters than I did to my kids haha.

  9. This is fascinating! Sort of like psychology. When I took my first psych course in college, with everything I learned I thought, “Of course, that makes sense, I just never really thought about it before.” I was especially excited about the idea of having the fictional parents name their fictional son or daughter – “Duh.” Of course! I think that would work especially well if the character can’t stand his/her name and goes by an off-the-wall nickname, not wanting to reveal the real name to anyone.
    In my first book I changed the name of one of the characters when I was about two thirds finished with the manuscript. I knew how to click on a few buttons and change one name to the other. Then I changed the possessive form (from “Jo’s” to “Sarah’s.”) But I didn’t think about the sentence where someone was thinking about the character where the name was in italics. The app didn’t make the change, and I didn’t catch it until after the first batch of books was printed. I’m wondering how many readers were wondering “Who’s ‘Jo’?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.