Naming Your Fictional Characters

As a writer, my largest hang-up has always been finding the perfect names for my characters. I’m very picky–I don’t like to name my characters after real people if I can help it, nor do I want to copy another author’s name choices. But I usually don’t get good ideas for characters’ names as I’m developing the concept; names are always the last thing to come to me when I’m crafting a fictional person.

If you’re a fellow writer with this same problem (or if you’ve ever tried your hand at making a unique fictional character for a role-playing scenario, video game etc.), you know how frustrating this can be. I stayed frustrated a long time, until I figured out something pretty simple to help:

Baby Name Websites: A Writer’s Best Friend

It might seem silly, but baby name websites have given me more ideas for character names than I can count over the last several years.

Some websites give you more history and meanings for the name so that you can decide if it’s a good fit or not; others allow users to submit original names (which sometimes ends up in utter strangeness getting added to the database, but is mostly okay). I don’t necessarily gravitate toward popular names when I search–I instead browse through the database one alphabet letter at a time, seeing which names catch my eye and noting those as I go. (This works fastest if you’ve already got an idea for what your character’s name starts with, but even if you have NO clue what you want their name to be, this helps.)

BabyCenter.com
BabyNameWizard.com’s Advanced Name Finder
Parents.com’s Baby Names
Nymbler.com Online Name Tool

Get Help with Surnames, Too!

If I’m bad about selecting characters’ first names, I’m even worse about their surnames. Thankfully, there are a few websites, mostly based in genealogy and ancestry, which have helped me select characters’ last names. (Like when I search for first names, I usually search by alphabet letter, writing down the ones that strike my fancy.) Investigating the surnames’ meaning is also a great tool for matching up surnames to types of characters; you may not wish to make it match perfectly, but a loosely linked name can be fun.

SurnameDB.com
SurnameFinder.com
FamilyEducation.com’s Surname Meaning Search

Also Try: Altering Interesting Words

If none of the names seem to fit, try taking a descriptive word you like the sound of, and changing or deleting some of the letters to make it sound more like a name. (Examples off the top of my head: “Whitha” from the words “white” or “with”; “Sentyn” from the word “sentimental”; “Tunar” from the words “tune” or “thunder”.) This trick can help especially if you’re trying to create more high-fantasy or mythical-sounding names, or if you’re really, REALLY stuck on a character name.

Summary

Coming up with character names can feel daunting, but some Internet research plus a little old-fashioned creativity can help you name your heroes (and villains) at last! Try one or more of these tips for your next novel, short story, or game!

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