Character Names – How To Choose?

One of my favorite parts of the writing process is fleshing out my characters. It’s also one of the first things I do because I like to spend time with these people and get to know them before I start actually writing about them. Other than figuring out what your character “wants” and how they get it (or don’t get it), you also have to name them. But how to go about it?

group of people standing indoors

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There are several ways to find names for your characters, and these are the three methods I use most. Keep in mind, I write contemporary fiction, so I won’t be touching on how to name characters for genres such as fantasy or science fiction because frankly, I don’t know how to go about it. Much respect to those who do! I can tell you that no matter which method I use, I have a blast figuring out my character’s names!

  • The Basics:

When you get a story idea, you probably automatically have an idea of your character’s basics. Things such as their age, race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic background, you may think of pretty quickly. Those things, and many other basics, can help shape your character’s names.

If your character is a product of hippie parents, most likely, his name won’t be Michael. You have a license to get creative with their name. Moonbeam might make much more sense than Michael. That name may be the bane of Moonbeam’s existence, or perhaps he embraces it. Who knows? Names can also be a fun, recurring point in your story!

Here’s an example specific to me. I’m in the process of doing research for my next project. It takes place in 1970, so I had to consider that when naming my characters. My main character was born in 1954, so I did an internet search for the most popular baby names for that year. I knew I couldn’t name my character something trendy, something that sounds very “today.” So, Kaitlyn was out, but Kathleen was in the top twenty most popular names of 1954. I liked the sound of Kathleen, and I think it fits my character’s look, as well as the time period. And in case you like fun facts, I’ve decided to call her Kat! 🙂

The basics can also help determine a character’s surname. In my mind, Kathleen’s grandparents or great-grandparents immigrated from Ireland, so her last name is Murphy. It’s a popular Irish surname, and I wanted one that was simple and sounded good with Kathleen.

  • Random Name Generators:

What do you do if you can’t decide on a character’s name? Maybe it’s a secondary character, and not as important as the main character, and you’re stuck on a name. Maybe like me, you use photo inspiration for characters and need help with names. I use celebrity inspiration, but I know writers who use stock photos for inspiration. In the case of stock photos, you don’t know the model’s name, and with celebrity inspo, I’d never use the same name for the character. What’s creative about that? Nothing!

Random name generators can really come in handy in these types of situations. There are so many to choose from, a simple internet search is all it takes to find one. Some generators are very simple and just generate a list of names. You may be able to specify male, female, or neutral names, and it’ll give you a list of names. How many names depends on the generator; some will let you choose how many names you want to see.

Other random name generators will let you get even more specific. You can specify nationalities, traditional or whimsical names, and even first, middle, and last names. Whether you need just a little help or a whole lot of help naming a character, there’s a random name generator out there to fit your needs!

  • A Gut Feeling

You know how they say that your first instinct is almost always the right one? If a character name jumps out at you and it just feels “right,” then it’s probably a great character name. As long as the name is correct to the time period and any other social or economic parameters (and if it feels right, it probably already is), then go with it! After all, you are the one who will know your characters and story the best.

This happened with my first book’s main character, and it does make the naming process a lot easier!

And there you have it, the three ways I choose character names. To me, it’s the most fun aspect of character development!

close up of scrabble tiles forming the words the end

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