Naming Your Characters

“Call me Ishmael.”

Moby Dick, Herman Melville

The name of your main character is usually one of the first things your readers will want to know. That’s why it’s so important. I mean, have you ever met someone who doesn’t have a name? No!

One of the most important things to look at when you start writing is your characters’ names. Picking out names for all your characters is one of my favorite parts of starting a new project.

Some people will tell you to pick names that are uncommon and unforgettable. Others might tell you the simplest names are the best. But the reality is both. It depends on your character and your preference.

Some of my all-time favorite books have both uncommon names, like Katniss from Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and super common names like John from I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore. Just for an example.

So, to help you a little bit in choosing your character names, here is how I pick mine.

Sometimes I know right off the bat what a character’s name is going to be. Other times I have chosen names from people I’ve met. It always depends. But there are plenty of times where I spend weeks thinking about a character’s name.

So, first things first, I try to think about who my character is. Are they smart, funny, strong, mean? What part of them makes them stand out from everyone else? What is special about them? Who are they and where did they come from? Literally. Google becomes my best friend when I can’t think of names. I will look for names with specific meanings to them that might match the character’s personally, race, or purpose in the story. (Always leads to some fun behind-the-scenes info.)

Name generators are also very helpful, especially for last names. They don’t always prove useful for me, but they get my ideas going. Click here to go to my favorite name generator, which also has generators for a bunch of other things.

Here’s a tip, and something I highly recommend. Start a list of names. I have a list in my writing notebook and on my phone. Nothing special. Every time you come across a name you like, write it down. Now, when you’re looking for names and have no ideas, you have something to start with, even if you never use a single name on it.

What are some of your favorite names?

-R.E. Klinzing


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