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Naming your characters

Hello fellow writers. I'm very much a newbie to the site, but not to writing. I was quite prolific as a writer a few years ago but got very disheartened at rejections with no helpful feedback, finding someone else had got in first with my idea of a story etc etc. ( I have pounced on the article in this months mag though!)
I have returned to writing now as I have retired and feel that I can be much more diligent in my submissions. However, one thing always eludes me when roughing out my protaganists. What the 'eck to call 'em? I usually look around at my library of books or the newspaper for inspiration. Many years ago I 'obtained' a book of baby names but somehow that has gorn missing. I know this might be a trivial query to some but it really bugs me at times. Anyone care to share? Thanks.
Best wishes Victoria44


  • Welcome to Talkback, Victoria44.

    Names are always an issue.

    If you're lucky your characters will tell you their first name and you have to decide the rest.
    But as a writer said to me many years ago, names come with baggage- consider the character/age differences suggested by the names, Maud, Crystal or Veronica.
  • I'm ALWAYS hearing about stories similar to mine suddenly been released when I'm halfway through the idea. I should probably take this as a good sign as it means my ideas are commercial :P I just need to get in the there a bit sooner!

    Following article is nicked from my own blog, a post I did on naming characters that sums up my thoughts on the matter :)


    “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose.
    By any other name would smell as sweet.”

    Yeah, that may be true for roses, Juliet, but most writers think a character by any other name just might not have the same impact.

    Some writers prefer to spend a long time picking names for their characters while are others are content to stick a pin in the phonebook and stick with whatever they get. I think I fall somewhere in between these two groups, seemingly plucking names from the ether but then analysing them to see if they suit the character and my story.

    Although since I’m preaching about careful analysis of character names I might as well mention the big mistake I noticed recently in my current novel. My two main characters were named Charlie and….Harley.

    Yep, that’s right I somehow managed to get 40,000(ish) words into my novel without realising that most chapters sounded like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

    “That’s gnarly, Charlie,” said Harley as they walked through the barley.


    Although I’m glad to say almost 80,000 words in the mistake has been rectified.

    Anyway, enough about my mistakes…

    When it comes to choosing a characters names, a lot of people try and pick a name which ‘suits’ certain characteristics in a MC. Bruno for a bulky bodybuilder, Norbert for a nerd, Candy for a dumb blonde…stereotypical as a French man covered in garlic.

    But if you think about celebrities we all know and love…

    'Bruce' the action hero
    'Alice' the demonic singer
    'Arnold' the bodybuilder

    Names that don’t follow the expectations we have built up for the characters they play and the roles they fill. But that’s how life works. When you name a child you have no idea what they will be like when they grow up, you don’t know if they will be hunky, ugly, skinny, funny…or ginger.

    People tend to grow into their names rather than live up to the stereotypical associations we associate with a certain label. I think the same can be said of fictional characters; we shouldn’t spend weeks agonising over the ‘perfect’ name and instead pick a name that suits the story.

    The main thing to focus on when naming characters is avoiding potential clashes. While in real life there may be four Jeff’s in your office, it would be a little strange – not to mention confusing – to have four characters with the same name in your novel.

    The same goes for characters with similar sounding names. If your novel has a Jeff, a John, a Jack and a Jill then there may be several scenes that have your readers pulling out there hair in frustration.

    A good name is as memorable as any action scene or dramatic speech. Names such as Atticus Finch, Sherlock Holmes, Boris Dragosani, Ignatius Perrish, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler, Skulduggery Pleasant, etc.

    All fantastic names…or are they? Would they still be amazing names if the characters had been dull, lifeless and boring? Of course not! It wasn’t the names that made the characters unforgettable…it was the characters themselves!!

    So, go out there and create amazing characters and let the names sort themselves out!"
  • Hi Victoria44 and welcome!

    Great thread! I love this topic.

    My characters tend to introduce themselves to me and I don't usually have any say in what their names are.

    I tend to go with what instinctively fits the image of my character, although I agree with you that books of baby names are very useful.

    There are baby name and surname web sites now, and you can search for variations, such as 'Scottish', 'Welsh' etc. I needed a Hindu name recently and there is a web site for those too.
  • Hello Victoria

    There are lots of baby name sites on the internet such as

    Good luck with the writing revival
  • Hi Victoria44
  • Hi Victoria.

    I keep a list of names on a file. I note down any that I like and delete them as they're used. Whenever I meet someone they risk going on the list!

    Usually it's a good idea to choose names that aren't to alike for characters in the same story - unles you have a reason for them to have similar names. Also try and think about the age of the character - eg if your character is your age then pick the name of someone you went to school with. If older then your parents friends etc
  • Hi,

    I use a random name generator on my phone until I get something I like, I can set nationality and a number I attempts. I usually get a few good results from that. but my most recent series contains characters with names that seemed to suit them,

    Barney Henderson, the main protagonist, just appeared with name and description fully formed, most of the characters that appeared in his series were very much the same.

    And Hi Victoria44
  • Hi Victoria. I have my late mother-in-law's crossword-help book which has a list of names I consult occasionally.
    Carol's point about the era is worth noting too. You can Google "Popular names of the 60's" for example.
    And don't use the same initial letter for two characters - you'll get muddled, let alone your readers!
    One book I was working on recently is a fantasy and I've been using geological terms to produce names - that's been fun!
  • In a word: Spam.

    Keep an eye on those unwanted emails, because I've been offered little blue tablets and *ahem* biological enhancements by some people with great names. Some of them really should have gone into showbiz. If I ever sell the movie rights to any of my books, some of them still might....
  • That's so true UKSteve, some of the names that arrive are just perfect.
  • Choosing names can be hard too. I chose the name Merida for my princess in my new book just finished. I made it up, I thought. I couldn't believe it when Disney released their new princess film last week and her name is Merida. Looks like I will have to find another now!
  • Names should 'fit' the character so that you are at ease with them, and they mould themselves into their personalities as you write. When we name our children, we take a while thinking about names we like, that we feel suits them, that they can grow into. We don't choose names we hate. The same is true for your characters. You will never find the likes of Marie, Paula, Chardonnay, Tracey, Brigitte or Chelsea (to name but a million) in any of my stories. No offence to those are have those names, but I just don't 'gel' with them. And I have to gel with the name, it has to fit.

    Likewise, a chav wouldn't be called Amelia Warmington-Smythe if she lived on a dog rough council estate with seven kids and a pitbull. Ergo the same for Dwayne Dogsbottham being a refined country gent with a Boxter in the drive. Character names are not just about the name, it's their personality and who they represent.
  • This is something I've given a lot of thought about when writing my stories. Red is right, in that names need to fit the characters. A conversation a while ago however, made me realise that I seem to have established some sort of pattern with the names of my main characters. In three very separate stories, I discover that my main character in each has a first name with the same two syllables, and their surnames all begin with the same letter, so that I ended up with; Campbell Parker, Maxwell Phipps, and finally, Shadwell Pridmore. This certainly wasn't intentional, but on thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that I quite simply like names that sound like that, and to me they just sound right for my particular characters. This syndrome doesn't appear to occur with any of my secondary or other characters, but only my main ones.
  • [quote=kateyanne] Looks like I will have to find another now![/quote]

    How about Querida? It means Loved one or Darling in Spanish/
  • [quote=JohnWho63]Shadwell Pridmore. [/quote]

    Really? :D
  • [quote=liz young]JohnWho63 wrote: Shadwell Pridmore.

    Really? [/quote]

    Yes indeed. In the current story I am writing, Shadwell Pridmore is an assistant librarian who becomes involved in something very dark.
  • Thanks to all of you for your great suggestions. I think that once I get my writing eye back in everything will fall into place as per some comments. Some of you have given me much food for thought with crazy names...mind if I plagiarise???????
    I look forward to being part of this very friendly and supportive group. Best wishes and happy publishing victoria44
  • Hello and welcome, V44. :D
    There is lots of good advice above so I won't time-waste by adding similar stories here. Good luck with your renewed writing inspiration.
  • As Red said names mould into their personalities as you write that's why after writing my book for two years I don't really want to change the name Merida to something else but it looks like I have to.
  • I once read a tip which said to take your characters' names from the closing credits of TV programmes. You can mix and match first and surnames to avoid using specific people, or even use surnames as first names. Grab a pen next time your favourite programme ends and you'll get some good ideas.
  • [quote=Lou Treleaven]take your characters' names from the closing credits of TV programmes.[/quote]

    Nice idea, Lou - IF you can read the damn things :)
  • Hallo Victoria44.
    I usually know my characters names the moment they turn up in my imagination. I'm presently associated with Marigold Fleecebuckle, Chastity Slack, Evangelina Wiccawille (the Goatwoman), and several more unlikely folk.
  • I struggle with naming my characters, I often get a name straight away but tinker with it a few times. My most recent project the two main chararcters have gone from Travis Melnes to Dan Carpenter and the detective was Jack Scholfield, then he was Patrick Cole at present he is Jim Hackett but I can not decide.
  • [quote=Guffyowl]Jim Hackett[/quote]

    Yes, Minister!
  • I take it, Jim Hackett is already a name of someone then, Time to change again.
  • [quote=snailmale]Marigold Fleecebuckle[/quote]

    That's brilliant, I love it. One of my sci fi characters, Maxwell Phipps, has a wife called Marigold.
  • edited July 2012
    [quote=Guffyowl]the detective was Jack Scholfield[/quote]

    There are a few Police officers turn up in my stories, and I have looked towards tv Police/Detective dramas for help in naming the characters. I think with these, the names have to reflect the rank of the person concerned; so that I ended up with a PC Aidan Wright, Sergeant Karen Howells, DCI George Townsend, and DCS Harry Broadfield.
  • [quote=Guffyowl]I take it, Jim Hackett is already a name of someone then[/quote]

    Actually I think it was Jim Hacker, the character in Yes MInister. My mistake!
  • Sounds like the character who is occupying me at present has a very unimaginative name - Albert Smith.
    He's known as Albie - does that help? - and it is 1925.

    The young hero of my fantasy novel, on the other hand, is called Tomboro.
  • I understand, but isn't too difficult. Use other peoples middle names, deviations of last names. Never be exact. A trick of the trade I use. I make a list of characters, what their job in the story is, and make them simple to remember. Most of my characters take on a life of their own while, or as I am writing. Next to the name and role, I usually have a kill off order listed beside their names. Basically, any catchy name works well. If there are two main characters. Another trick is have their names rhyme as if they were your own prodigy. Casey, and Lacey, Jack and Jill, Rob and Ryan Mac and Zack, Miley and Billy. Make it catchy, and make it easier, so you can get on with the writing the story. What's in a name Vic
  • I tried to change the name but I cant think of the character by any other name, so I will have to wait until it is finished [if ever!].

    I recently began a rewrite of my novel which I began years ago - this was just to get me going again, to get me working, writing, applying bum glue, to achieve something. I feel better when I write but….
    It began as an exercise to expand a single paragraph written by a friend at a writing group. It was an intriguing paragraph so I wrote the next one…
    …after ten chapters and about a hundred typed up A4 pages of notes my endurance petered out; also it was too complicated etc etc.
    When I began I just used my son’s name to allow me to get on and not worry too much about a suitable name, but I think I need to change it.
    I met a charming lady called Emily Copperwheat. I had an acquaintance called Con. His name was Cornelius but he never told anyone except trusted friends. I just had to write a story about people with such names. Sent the story to a few comps with no results.
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