4 tips to naming your characters

Selecting just the right name for your characters is a challenge for many. It is like naming a child times ten or twenty or even more. Because it isn’t just your protagonist, their sidekicks and the antagonist that needs monikers. It is all the people that populate your make-believe world.

namesOkay so you probably aren’t going to agonize for hours over the pizza deliver guy’s name. Heck, you probably won’t even give him a name (or a back story). But you do need the names of parents, siblings and friends of your main character. Most often it ends up being a long list of characters – major and minor – that need to have a name.

Here are some tips when naming character. (For more information, you can also read my original post on picking the right name for your character.)

1.) Know your character – Especially for your main characters, you need to know them before you can pick out their name. You need to know their age, history and whether they are good or evil (sorry, remember I am a fantasy writer).

Make sure the name fits the culture and time period of your novel (especially true for historical novels). And make sure the name is appropriate for the character’s ethnic background.

2.) Avoid weird or hard to pronounce names or spellings – Shy away from using the cute or unusual spellings for someone’s name unless it plays a role in your novel. Anyone with a hard to pronounce name probably will need a nickname.

And for those fantasy writers, please avoid the temptation to use a random collection of letters and symbols for a character name. Even though your reader probably won’t be reading your story aloud, they will mentally trip over unpronounceable names. You can of course get around this by using a nickname for the character to make it easier for the reader and the other characters.

3.) Avoid names with same sound or are too similar – Stay away from rhyming names (Darla and Karla) as well as a lot of names starting with the same letter (Jen, Jon and Jan). You may also want to avoid names that start with the same letter or same sound – like Phil and Fred. Your best bet is to vary the starting letters and length of names. So Michelle may have a friend named Sara instead of Monique.

4.) Don’t use the name of someone famous – And I am not talking just about popular names that many people may have heard of such as Brad Pitt but also names of people who may be famous in their own field. Just because you have not heard of Dr. Steven Killjoy doesn’t mean that others have and might assume you are writing about their friend or colleague. Your best bet is to Google the names of characters to make sure they aren’t real people.

Places to find names –

  • Baby Naming books or websites (Behind the Name is a good website to check out)
  • Yearbooks
  • Phone books
  • Genealogy records
  • Social Security website (for popular names during other time periods)
  • Film credits (look at the names of crew members for some interesting choices)
  • Try combining two common names to create a new name (Example: Donica can be created from Donna and Veronica)

Wherever you find your character names, just make sure that they fit your character and story.







Naming places in a fantasy novel

Last week, I dedicated my post to tips on developing character names but the places in your novel need names too. If you are writing a novel that takes place on Earth – whether it is set in the present, past or future – all you need is an atlas (or I guess in the modern age – Google Maps) to give you the names of counties, cities, lakes, rivers and mountain ranges.  But when you have developed your own world, you have the task of naming all the places yourself.

So where do you come up with these names? They can come from just about anywhere. Here are a few tips to help you brainstorm.

1.) Use a map – There are plenty of unusual names of places already in existence. Just skimming over a map you can find great places like – Boone, Evansdale, or Brydemere. I named a village Elwood in my short story, The Search, after a town I found on a map. It should go without saying that you will want to stay away from popular city names such as Albuquerque or Springfield.

2.) Use a last name Last names can work well as the names of a place so check out your phone book. To name one of the rivers in The Search, I used the last name of a former Spurs basketball player – Bruce Bowen. From his name, I created the Bowen River in which my main character, Tosh, falls into while trying to escape a pack of wolves.

3.) Use an on-line generator – A great place to get some names would be to use an on-line name generator. These randomly give you names and while you may not like the names that are suggested, they can maybe spark your imagination.

4.) Use a common word – No one said that you had to come up with some obscure word to name your places. You can just pick a random, simple word and use it. In my The Elemental trilogy, I have Harmony and Nor as two of my major cities. I also have a country called Remington after the gun manufacturer.

5.) Think like your characters – You may want to put yourself in your character’s boots. Where is their town located? Is it near a mountain or a river? If they had to name it, what would they come up with? If you are naming a mountain peak or a hallowed ground, maybe it is named after one of their gods or a king.

There are no set rules for naming places.  As you come across interesting names – no matter where they come from – jot them down. You never know when that word will work out perfectly as a name for a city, village, river or mountain in your next story.