What’s In A Name: Naming Characters

What's In A Name? Naming Characters R.S. Mollison-Read

Naming characters can often be an arduous process, but there are ways to make it fun, and exciting! We put a lot of onus on names, and thus when we name a character it can feel like a huge deal. I think it is a huge deal, because I think a name can make or break a character’s believe ability.

I also find that my opinions about names are unduly influenced by the people I’ve met in my life. As a teacher, this can be especially influencing!

Here are six techniques that help me with naming characters:

#1: Google:
The first thing I will always do when I’m looking for names is a good Google search. Often I will simply search ‘male name’, or ‘female names’, but sometimes, if I’m looking for something particular, I’ll use more specific search terms like ‘British surnames’ or even ‘old fashioned names’ (a search term that yielded particularly amusing results, such as ‘Brunhilde’ and ‘Beauregard’!)

#2: Out and About:
If I hear or see a great name while I’m going about my business, I have a very long list (which gets longer every day!) of names that I can refer to again at any time. Whenever I am writing a new character, this list of names is what I go to first. Last Sunday whilst grocery shopping, I heard a mother calling for her son. His name was ‘Micah’, which isn’t a particularly common name, and I immediately put that name down in my list.

#3: Behind The Name:
Something else I often consider when naming a character, is the meaning behind the name. There are several sites dedicated to name meanings , like this one. I’ve found that sometimes names have multiple meanings, which can be very interesting. I find that knowing the meaning of a name can help to enhance the character for me, and sometimes provide pertinent information about that character

#4: Unusual Names:
Particularly as the author of a fantasy series I find it important to use ‘otherworldly’ names, and this can be difficult. In my favourite fantasy series of all time, Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, there are characters with wonderfully interesting and unique names that are also horribly long and difficult to pronounce (Nynaeve ti al’Meara Mangragoran comes to mind). When I’m creating names for characters I usually look for names that are slightly more familiar, but with an interesting twist. In my first novel, Magicians Mayhem, the main character is named Tobin, which is a twist on the name ‘Toby’.

#5: Gender Bender:
When I was writing the character of the magical doctor in Magician’s Mayhem, I could not find a name that suited her. I went through a variety of names, until one day, in passing, my sister mentioned one of her childhood friends named ‘Darcie’, and suddenly I knew that was my character’s name. I hadn’t previously considered that name because I have an uncle named ‘Darcy’, and that had blinded me to using the name for my female character.

#6: Name Generators:
I’ve noticed more and more of these name generators popping up around the internet lately and I find them quite useful, not to mention fun! There are some pretty basic name generators, like this one here, but there are also some unique and interesting ones, like this Pirate Name Generator! I stumbled across this Steampunk name generator last month, and have had a lot of fun with it. There’s also this fun Game Of Thrones name generator for some fun!

What techniques do you use for naming characters? Tell me in the comments below!


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10 thoughts on “What’s In A Name: Naming Characters

  1. The best advice I ever got on naming characters was not to give main characters names that were too similar to one another. I’ve noticed, too, when I’m reading, that having more than one “M” name, for example, can make it harder to follow who’s who.

  2. […] Mollison-Read presents What’s In A Name: Naming your characters posted at R.S. Mollison-Read, saying, “Some helpful tips and tricks to help authors choose […]

  3. This is the only reason I can think of to have a phone book lying around the house.

  4. I used to do data entry for a place that dealt with insurance claims. Bad job, but I would find the most interesting names for both people and places and/or typos! Useful for a lot more than names alone. So I have my own long list, mostly on Excel for easy sorting. I also will sometimes spell something backwards for a unique name.

    I’ve been carrying baby name books around since I was a teen (occasionally to my own embarrassment), but my favorite name book is a Writer’s Digest publication that breaks names down by ethnicity. Of coursed, not all can be represented, but it suits my needs.

  5. […] And while my article focuses on what not to do, author Rachael Mollison-Read focuses on six great ways to think about and discover character names: […]

  6. Many thanks for sharing this fine post. Very inspiring! (as always, btw)

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