How to Give Your Characters Great Names
4 ways to name the people living in your head
Starting a new manuscript is fun, but there’s always one annoying detail to take care of before you get to the good stuff. What are your character’s names?
I usually figure out my character’s personalities and backstories long before their names, which is what makes this such a consistent issue for me. That’s why I’m partially writing this article for myself as well as you. We all need writing help from time to time.
A character’s name is a vital part of who they are. It’s their label. It’s the first thing your readers will think of when remembering that character. Make sure it’s a memorable one. You don’t want to end up assigning forgettable names to all your characters.
Names like Hagrid, Gandalf, and Tony Stark are so iconic that you can’t imagine the characters having any other name. You might think it impossible to come up with names that are just as iconic, but you’re up to the task too. Or you will be once you’re done reading this.
1. Use a Name Generator
Choosing names is so difficult that there are entire websites dedicated to doing it. Now with the press of a button, you too can have the perfect name ready to go. If it’s not perfect right away, you could always edit it until it is.
Some websites let you put in extra info that’ll make the generator spit out more specific names. Mess around with it until it spits out the name you’re looking for.
While name generators are useful, don’t rely on them. Characters with random words for names aren’t very interesting. Gibberish usually isn’t memorable.
2. Choose Something That’ll Fit
If you’re going to come up with your own name, you need to make sure it has some meaning behind it. You could easily call your protagonist something quick and snappy like Jack Danger, but does it fit the character?
Most characters’ names literally take on other meanings. All names mean something so some writers just look up what name means something that fits with their story and assigns it to one of their characters.
A character named “Sol” is probably related to the Sun, just as “Luna” would be connected to the moon.
Another way to do it is pick a name that means something to you and then base the character around it. Or you could pick a name that’s meant to be ironic. You could have Jack Danger be heroic, fun-loving, and a daredevil, or you could make him the complete opposite since it’s what his name would imply.
Character creation is where creativity thrives, so look at your names from every angle.
3. Make Them Compliment Each Other
Some characters only have their names to compliment another character. Remember Sol and Luna from earlier? Make them siblings or rivals. Their complimentary names will make their relationship much more memorable.
Make sure that those characters can also stand on their own. Sol should have light or fire-based abilities to make their name mean something aside from their relationship with Luna.
4. Take the Names for a Test Drive
Once all your names have been chosen, take them for a spin. Write scenes featuring the characters. Have them call each other by their names. See if it feels right.
Don’t panic if it feels wrong. Just take a few steps back and reevaluate. Does the name need to be replaced, or does it just need some tweaks?
I’ve tweaked names, replaced them, and even made some characters swap with each other. There’s not an exact science to it. It’s going to take plenty of experimentation to get to where you want to be.
Coming up with names is hard, but so rewarding. It can be an extremely fun part of character creation. Trying to make names that fit with character’s personalities and stories is a blast. Especially once you get creative with it.
Kesten E. Harris is an author with four books and counting under his name. When he's not publishing those, he's writing self improvement articles.