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Avoid the Alias Syndrome: How to Find Great Character Names

Updated on April 22, 2011

They’re a common occurrence in writers’ workshops, online writing boards and fan fiction sites- the stories full of Jane Does, Bob Smiths and Sally Andersons. It’s like the Easy to Pronounce WASP Name Committee sat down and decided to dole out names Ellis Island style. But not to despair; there are ways around those times when the path of least resistance beckons.

The answer is right in front of you: anywhere you can find a name list. I’ve used telephone books, hospital donor boards, random names found in the newspaper, directories and employee lists. (Switching up first and last names, of course. I would also be wary of using someone you know, lest that character accidently becomes that person. Pick someone you don’t know.)

Don’t underestimate the power of giving your characters' names special meaning. Names have meanings and it adds a level of dimension to the story and makes the character more distinct. To do this, consult a baby name book or a name meanings webpage. J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, is renowned for matching characters with Latin roots and mythology. Not everyone has the generic name of Harry Potter, and it would get obnoxious if they did. Take the time play matchmaker with your characters and their names.

Writing something where a character is of a certain ethnicity or from a certain area? There are sites abound with ethnic names listed, many times complete with meanings and origins. Here are just a few:

http://www.namesite.com/ : African names

http://genealogy.familyeducation.com/browse/origin/french : French surnames, site allows access to other ethnicities as well

http://www.dolltoy.com/uk2.html : most and least common English surnames

Remember, Google is your friend. With so many resources at your finger tips, constantly making boring character names with little meaning to them should be a thing of the past.

 

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