5 Tips for Naming Your Characters

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Does anyone else have a hard time naming their characters? I think the reason I have a hard time with it is that I want the name to find me rather than me finding the name. Often times until the name of a character finds me, I'll give my character pretty ordinary names or even a single letter to refer them by.

There has to be a better way instead of waiting for the "eureka" moment! I read an article with Writer's Digest recently that described what authors do to name their characters and many do the very thing that I do - I wait for the name to hit me.

However there are a few tips to go by that have jumped out at me:

1) Read newspapers for the era you are writing for.

There are a few different ways to find newspapers online. First, is through Google News. I'm a huge fan and it's helped me with figuring out several ideas.

Depending where your character origins from or when they were born, you can use these newspapers to narrow down common names used at the time. Also it's helpful to figure out surnames for your character.

If you need some help with searching through their archives, I recommend taking a look at their help section. This can help you look things up by region or date.

Also Chronicling America is another great tool to use. They have an extensive collection you can search through.

2) Give the name a story.

Maybe the characters named their daughter Layla after the Eric Clapton song. Maybe the father loves mustangs and that is why they named their daughter Shelby. Maybe there are a generation of men in the family named Noah.

Sometimes a name has a story connected to the parents and why they named their child. Think about your own name. Why did your parents name you your name? This information can not only help you name your character, but also become part of their history, past and maybe even how they see themselves and relate to their parents.

3) Consider your characters age.

If your character was born in 1986, and happens to be 31 or 32 this year, did you know that Michael and Jessica were the top popular male and female names that year? Name popularity by year is another way of figuring out appropriate names for your characters. Visit the Social Security Administration's page for unique details on year by year popular names.

4) Have someone name the character for you.

Don't want to think too much about this? Use this for a helpful website: The Character Name Generator. visit this link and type in the region, sex, and decade the character was born in and they will give you a name and even a personality type.

5) For fantasy or non-Earth science fiction names, name something people can read and say.

If your characters do not live on Earth or at least this version of it, make sure that your reader can still read and say these names. A comparable example comes from the Lord of the Rings series. Think of a few names from the book - Aragorn, Frodo Baggins, and Legolas. Any Wheel of Time series fans? Think of those names - Rand al'Thor, Egwene al'Vere, and Mat Cauthon. So while I haven't yet met an Aragorn or Rand al'Thor in this present day and age, these names are easy to read and say.

So while you are writing that next great novel, short story or flash fiction, I hope these tips help you with naming your characters and bringing life to them again.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Nicole--I've used the obituaries of different eras when I'm writing something from a particular historical period.

I love #2. I hadn't even thought of that, but that method adds such another layer onto things--in such an easy way.

And although I've never met an Aragorn, I'd sure like to meet the Aragorn from the movie series... ;)

Angela Mackintosh said...

Nicole, this post is super helpful! I love all the links, especially the character name generator. Even in writing creative nonfiction, I change all the names, so I struggle just as much as fiction writers in finding the perfect name. But I try to pick a name with the same number of syllables and similar sound as the real person. That keeps it real enough in my mind. Thanks for the post! :)

Nicole Pyles said...

Me too! I would love to meet that Aragorn. I had the biggest crush on him for so long! And obituaries are definitely a good idea!

Nicole Pyles said...

That is a unique approach! I like the idea of keeping the names similar.

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