One of the challenges consistently faced by writers is the task of naming characters. Coming up with the right name is no small endeavor, especially when just any name won’t do. The character’s identity is at stake, as well as their reception from your readers. So how do you find the perfect names for your characters?
“I can’t think of a name for him!” one of my friends told the members of our writing group early this week. It is a problem we see frequently in the group, and sometimes a difficult one to solve. “I’m so frustrated!” she said.
Her exasperation is certainly understandable. Trouble naming characters can be a headache and even a source of writers block. Fortunately, there are ways to overcome this obstacle!
Look for Lists of Names
When it comes to finding names for characters, the internet is a writer’s best friend. While you won’t find many lists of potential character names, there are a multitude of sites dedicated to nothing but baby names. These websites are a gold mine for writers. You can find common—and not so common, names from all over the world. Many sites even explain the meanings and histories behind the names so that you can help tailor titles to fit your characters.
Explore Other Languages
If you want to spice up your characters’ names with a bit of symbolism, you may choose to turn to foreign and dead languages for inspiration. As the writers from World Wide Words explain, this is how J.K. Rowling, author of the beloved and bestselling Harry Potter series, came up with the name of Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore. Dumbledore means bumblebee. She borrowed from a number of Germanic languages to assemble his full name, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.
Great care should be taken when using other languages as a source of inspiration for character names. If you are not fluent in the language, it is easy to make embarrassing mistakes. Always carefully research the meanings behind the words you borrow if you do not speak the language.
Fantasy and Sci-Fi
For fantasy and science-fiction writers, common names used by us 21st Century earthlings may simply not do. In some cases it is possible to use a little bit of creativity to work around this problem. As journalist Pamela Redmond Satran, author of Beyond Ava and Aiden, reports in the Huffington Post, many parents are adding a bit of flare to their baby names by putting an interesting spin on traditional names and spellings.
Take Satran’s list of 20 unusual, yet appealing baby names, for example. You have to admit, Calixta and Wyn sound pretty cool!
Name generators can also be a valuable resources when seeking character names. Some of these online generators are simple while others, like namegeneratorfun.com, provide detailed information about the personalities, likes, and dislikes of the names they generate.
Although it provides no information about the names it generates, the random name generator from behindthename.com is one of my favorite go-to sources for names. It has options ranging from Esperanto to Korean to hillybilly wrestler witch. I kid you not. They also have names from various world mythologies and historical eras, as well as hippy and rapper names—just in case you’re tired of imitating the real SlimShady.
Unfortunately, not all of Behind The Name’s categories have many entries, so some options are not fully functional yet.
Fantasynamegenerators.com is also an excellent resource. Not only does it generate real and fantasy names, it can help you create names for places, plants, clans, currencies, spells, and more. It is definitely worth bookmarking for future reference.
Other Authors and World Literature
Reading the work of other authors from around the world can be a valuable source of naming inspiration. As in any field of work, study, or art, there is much to be said for standing on the shoulders of giants. Be careful not to plagiarize, however.
Your work should always be your own, so whenever you take inspiration from the work of other writers, make sure that inspiration is all that you are taking.
Historical knowledge is a must-have tool for any competent writer, regardless of the genres their work covers. Not only is history an open book of potential stories for the savvy storyteller, it is also full of cool and crazy names.
To learn more about some of Europe’s greatest names and the stories attached to them, check out the Great Names in History blog at 100falcons.wordpress.com.
Listen to Your Characters
Your characters have a great deal to tell you if you know how to listen. As you go through the naming process, include your character in the endeavor. You may find that there are names that they strongly like or dislike, and some names will likely feel more fitting than others. With a little practice, it is easy to pick up on these cues.
Remember to be patient with picky characters. Just like you, they want their names to suit them. Part of your job as a writer is to help them find those names, not to force names upon them. Though you are a storyteller, your greatest asset is your ability to listen.
There are many approaches to naming characters—probably more approaches than there are writers who use them. How do you find names for your characters? Tell us about your method for naming characters in the comments below!
(Roggen Wulf, 2014)