How to Name Your Characters

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You might not think that the name of a character is that important, but it is. It is very important. The name has to fit the character. When you hear a name, it has to match what you see in your mind. It needs to match their actions and their personality.

But how do you go about choosing the names for your characters? There are several different ways with none being the only correct one. It all depends on you.

Everyone Has Their Own Way

As I just said, there is no hard and fast rule on how to name your characters. If you asked twenty different bestselling authors, they would give you at least five or six different ways of going about it. Everyone has their own way to name their characters.

I am one that goes with gut. My friend researches names. It could take her a week to find one character's name. It is that important to her. I do look up meanings at time, but the name has to feel right to me. I've even walked in cemeteries for names. You can read lists of names from history for ideas. There are a number of sources and ways to go about this.

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Meaning of Names

A lot of people look at what a name means and matches the meaning with the character. For example, let's use my name in a book. The character is sneaky. She might be a bounty hunter, a lawyer, or a private investigator. The name 'Rebecca' means 'ensnarer'. Kind of fits,doesn't it?

If your character is a strong character with a streak of honesty that gets him in trouble, find a name that means honest. Who is your character? What is it about them that stands out? Use physical features, personality traits, and even professions to help name your characters.

Don't forget that you can use derivatives of names as well. You don't have to use 'Rebecca'. You could use Becca, Beck, Bec, Becky, Reba, or Reb. See what I mean? You have more to work with than you might think by looking at the meaning of names.

Ethnic Origins

You might want to mix ethnic origins of names with meanings or just focus on the ethnic background. For example, I needed a Native America name. I had no specific tribe so that did not matter. It had to be a woman. I ignored meanings. I looked for Native American female names. The one that stood out to me was 'Tahnee'. I loved it. So, my character got that name.

You don't have to take ethnicity into consideration. I named a character with an Irish name and someone commented that I'm describing her as Irish. My name is Hebrew and I'm far from Jewish. There is rule your characters have to be the ethnicity of their name though it might be important that they are if they are from that country or if their family was very traditional.

Naming your characters has to be believable for your readers to connect to them.

Gut Instincts

I am more for gut instincts when it comes to naming my characters. I read through names until I find one that screams out to me. It says, "Hey, I'm the one for that character." Drives my author friends nuts. But it works for me.

There is nothing wrong with gut instinct. Several times, the name's meaning happened to work out just fine and I used that in the story. Even if you go with the gut, check out the background of the name. You might be able to incorporate it into the story. It might even help with the plot.

How do you determine the names of your characters?

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Comments 8 comments

LupitaRonquillo profile image

LupitaRonquillo 4 years ago from Colorado

I just finished plotting a story out for a ficton novel and was just starting my characterization (qualities, personalities, professions, background, etc..). Thanks for the suggestions, especially liked the one on name meanings. Every writer approaches their work differently but I learned when you have first laid out a plot, it becomes easier to "identify" your characters more smoothly vs. the other way around. Naming your characters can be similar to matching up patterns for your story from the main fabric of your writing. Once you've decided, then you can "sew" in all your matching details in the writing process for your novel.


Sidewinder6661 profile image

Sidewinder6661 4 years ago from Manchester, UK

Great advice on naming characters. I never really think too much about it in advance. Sometimes I use names that I like... but then I'll get further into the story and realize that the name doesn't fit, so I'll try to find an alternative. I've never really thought about actually researching a name to perfectly fit a character. Thanks for the helpful advice!


Missy Mac profile image

Missy Mac 4 years ago from Illinois

I will keep these tips in mind when as I start. Thanks again.


BK Walker 4 years ago

I use a name generator, or if I hear a name on TV or meet someone with a cool name, like I always do here in PA, I write it down for later :)


rhomy 4 years ago

I loved this post! I've always been curious about the way authors decide the names of characters! I guess I would go with the "gut" thing myself but it was very entertaining.


babynology profile image

babynology 3 years ago from New York

Each name comes with information on any known meaning. If you would like to find out the meaning or origin any of the names, you can simply search over the internet.


Julie K Henderson profile image

Julie K Henderson 20 months ago

I approve wholeheartedly of this article. I've named a few characters from my gut, and I've also looked up the meaning of names before naming them. Curiously, while in a cemetery in January, I wrote down a few unique last names to use in future stories. Well done!


RGraf profile image

RGraf 20 months ago from Wisconsin Author

I love how everyone handles the names of their characters differently. Some are intense and others just apply whatever they find. Very unique.

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