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Coming up with the Right Fictional Character Names

Updated on June 14, 2011

Getting the Right Names for Your Characters is Vital

Getting the right names of you fictional characters is a major part of writing great fiction. If the name doesn’t suit the character you are virtually sunk in the first few paragraphs. Getting the name right is vital, especially for your main characters.

Imagine if J K Rowling had called Harry Potter - John Harris or Jason Young for example, or Charles Dickens had name Scrooge - Thomas Watts or even the super cool James Bond was Eric Foster? The name is Foster, Eric Foster. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it does it? Get the names right and you are well on your way perhaps to your first blockbuster.

But, finding that right name is not easy at all. You could dig through the local telephone directory for names, or do what J K Rowling did, and get them out of the local church’s 1800s records. Even modern writing tools such as Scrivener now have random name generators too.

Yet, you have built a picture in your mind of your characters, their role in your story and their various characteristics, but without a name they can’t come to life in your imagination. Inspector X meets Mrs Y, while investigating the brutal murder of newspaper tycoon Mr Z. It just doesn’t work without proper names to work with. A lot of authors start with a name and build a character around it.

Many writers collect names in their little black book. When they hear an interesting one they write it down for use in the future. And as soon as they hear a name, they start building up a character around it. Listen out for peoples names all the time. You may be in a doctor’s waiting room, or hospital when they call names, or they catch your eye when reading a newspaper or a magazine.

In my daytime job, I come across names from all over the world, and some are totally unbelievable and unusable as they sound too far fetched. You couldn’t make them up if you tried, and if I had used them in a novel, you would dismiss it, as the characters names are too odd. While others made me laugh every time I hear them.

Although, combine a few names, and you can come up with some very interesting names such as Dr. Ernest Love, the ageing trantric sex expert or Dirk Cramwinkel, the retired 1970’s blue movie star.

What is my name?
What is my name?
Getting my name right is very important !
Getting my name right is very important !

Tips for Picking the Right Name for Your Characters

1) Take your character and list his or her physical attributes and personality traits. Does a name immediately spring to mind that might suit?

2) Start with the first name, try different variations of the same name such as Gemma or Jemma, John or Jon, Alicia or Elysha, and Delilah or Dalila.

3) Try simple first names and big complex surnames such as Ron Fernández García or the other way around such as Wilheminia Smith - mix & match.

4) Get the correct names for the countries. Your readers will have trouble conjuring up an image of a Russian called Ramsbottom or Chinese man called Entwistle.

5) Try a twist, write a name backwards or make up an anagram. One of my pseudonym is Curtis Devereux, which comes from two local kipper manufactures on the Isle of Man.

6) Make sure your names are fashionable for the period and region you are writing about. You wouldn’t find many Brooklyn’s in ancient Rome for example.

7) Use other languages to find unusual names. Indonesian place names can make some superb sounding names such as Irian Jaya or Gala Ampat.

8) All your character's names should roll right off the reader's tongue. Try saying it out loud, it should sound cool.

9) Use the many name generators on the Internet, but nothing beats the one that you have made up yourself.

10) If the name doesn’t sound right to you, it won’t sound right to your readers too. Pick another, time spent getting the right name pays in the end.

Don'ts :

Don't name one of your characters after somebody who's already been invented - as you can imagine it causes problems later.

Don’t use un-pronounceable names.

Don’t make the names too long.

… And don’t forget - All characters in this book/work/film are just fictitious and does not reflect to any person alive or dead or any political person!

© David Lloyd-Jones 2010


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    • profile image

      gepeTooRs 20 months ago

      Should you do not thoughts my asking, do you make very good funds from this blog?

    • babynology profile image

      babynology 4 years ago from New York

      Indeed an informative article. Even i am even working on baby names site via baby names meaning and origins. Overall, the site would help you in your searching of baby names. The website has parenting forums as well to start up a discussion about baby names and meanings.

    • Riviera Rose profile image

      Riviera Rose 5 years ago from South of France

      Finding good character names is really tough - inevitably I come up with a duff name and stick with it knowing that the right one will come along eventually. Once it does, and it always seems to in the end, I then have to 'find and replace' like mad. I might try some of your suggestions next time - thanks!

    • Lil Miss Reader profile image

      Stephany 5 years ago from Somerset New Jersey

      Those are some very helpful tips. What I like to do is go online to a baby names site and find names from around the world and their meanings. It helps me to pick a name for a character if I know the meaning on it.

    • Midnight Oil profile image

      Midnight Oil 5 years ago from Isle of Man UK

      Getting the Right Names for Your Characters is Vital...

    • Emily Hopkins profile image

      Emily Hopkins 6 years ago

      You are correct, and many writers use letters for character names until they get a voice and feel for the character. I didn't know that J.K. Rowling got Harry Potter from church records...I always thought it would have been funny if she got it from the 1980s movie, "Troll."

    • kookoo88 profile image

      kookoo88 6 years ago from Cripple Creek

      Excellent hub. Coming up with names is one of the hardest tasks for a writer. I hit and miss on them.