How to Name Your Characters

You’ve come up with your concept. You have a rough outline, or at least a few turning points in mind. Maybe you have a really cute title. But you just can’t name those darn characters! Here’s how I do it…

1. Consider the time.

If you’re writing a historical, you probably need to do this first, but it doesn’t hurt if you’re writing a contemporary either. If you’re writing about your heroine’s grandmother, her name’s probably not going to be Tiffany, for example. Check out the Name Voyager at BabyNameWizard.com. It goes all the way back to the 1880s. (Remember, think about the year your character was born, not the current year of the story.)

If you need to go further back than the 1880s, the lovely Sabrina Jeffries has some advice:

I use The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names (which, I believe, is out of print, but sometimes you can find used copies). I love it because it details exactly in which centuries the names were used or were popular. You can’t possibly choose a name which is unlikely.

2. Consider the parents.

You need to know your character’s parents to know what they would have named their kid. Were/are they traditional? Religious? Trendy? Hippies? Literary types? Or, if your character chose her own name in her adulthood, why would she have done that? A lot of times we fall into the trap of “what name fits with this character?” when in real life a lot of us get names that don’t quite “fit” because our parents picked them. This can happen in fiction, too– Don’t forget that the parents choose the name!

3. Think about the meaning.

Don’t get too caught up in the actual “definitions” of names. Most people don’t know them anyway. Think about what the name invokes. Do you have a big strong alpha hero type? Maybe you need to choose a powerful name to go with that– Rock or Jack or something similar. This is secondary, of course, to what the parents would have chosen, but a lot of times you’ll find that these things mesh. Maybe he’s an alpha because his parents raised him that way, and if that’s the case, they would have named him something with a connotation of power.

4. Don’t neglect the all-powerful nickname!

Nicknames can say a lot not only about your character, but also about the characters that use the nickname, or maybe the character that made up the nickname in the first place. If your hero is Jonathan, but everyone still calls him Jon-Jon, maybe he’s stuck in the past a bit, or maybe people don’t respect him enough to move on to his adult name. Or maybe your heroine’s name is something girly like Charlotte but she’s changed it to Charlie because she’s a badass. It’s another way to integrate what the character’s parents would have named her with the general feeling you want to invoke with the name. You can make it all fit together!

So, what are your character naming tips? Do they just come to you, or do you think in a process, like I do? Tell me in the comments!