Naming your characters can sometimes feel like a monumental task where you’re unsure where to start. There are a zillion options to choose from, and it can be overwhelming. So I’m here to tell you about my process for naming characters.
Choosing character names with meaning makes the process more complicated, but it’s also fun. Before naming your character, you must think about your genre and era. So categories of the naming characters help you to understand it properly.
6 categories of naming characters
Naming a fantasy character is not the same as naming a contemporary character. So we’ll start with the easiest category by naming characters in historical fiction and writing a story in the Viking era.
These are the names you’ll consider if you’re writing a book that takes place today or in the not too distant past or the future. Before we get into it, please consider that names are different worldwide. Also, You have to consider whether or not the reader will be able to pronounce the name. Some writers will include a pronunciation guide, and some won’t. That’s a judgment call.
There are 6 general categories of names for you to choose from.
- Regular names: For example, Kelly, Jack, or Mike. It could work in futuristic sci-fi or post-apocalyptic stories, but it wouldn’t work in fantasy or dystopian genres.
- Uncommon names: You can choose real names that are uncommon or time-specific: Tristin, Lucinda. These names especially work in fantasy and dystopian stories. If you’re choosing this method and struggling to come up with stuff, it helps to research names from different eras and folklore.
- Original names: You can invent completely original names: Katniss, Denarius, Frodo. It also works for characters that aren’t human because if they’re not human, they’re probably not going to have human names. No one thing to take into consideration when using original names is pronunciation.
- Normal names: Normal names are commonly used in our real life and story: Sarah, John, Emily, Stephen. These are super common names. We all know these people, and these are good character names.
If you’re trying to make the character memorable, it’s not going to be because of their name. There are a million characters named John or Emily. So they’re going to have to be memorable for some other reason.
- Middle ground names: These are names we’re all familiar with: Sydney, Ashton, Grace, Calvin. They’re not quite as common. If you want the character to be special, you can use middle ground names. These are the names that I generally like to pick from for protagonists because they stand out enough to be memorable, but not so much where the character feels fake.
- Unique names: These names are legitimate, but they’re pretty uncommon, and they’re usually sexy: Scarlett Camden, Vienna Gage. It is when we start dipping our toes into cheesy waters. These names are easier to get away with within fantasy and dystopian novels. But if your book is set in the here and now, you might want to pair it with a toned-down the last name to keep the character relatable.
Damian Smoke sounds completely fictional. That person does not exist, but Damian Beckett could exist. Fancy pants names like Victoria Stone Water are usually only found in romance and erotica. So if that’s not what you’re going for, maybe take it down a notch.
How to name characters in a book?
The character’s name of a book matter, and it is one of the major steps that you must follow to make a successful story. Every trendy character has a beautiful name that carries his/her identity. If you’re diving into the name game, here are 10 pro tips to consider.
1. Search on baby name website
The number one most popular resource for writers trying to figure out names for their characters is baby names websites. At least 25% of people who regularly go to baby names websites are not parents or would-be parents but writers. Baby-names websites are helpful because they have a massive list of names. Also, they have a great search function, and they usually list the origin of the name.
- The first thing you want to think about when deciding what to name your characters is what names would fit into the world of your book.
If your book takes place in another country, you’ll want to make sure that your names fit that country. When creating a fantasy or a sci-fi world, you’ll frequently want to tweak existing names or create new ones. When doing that, make sure that the names all fit together.
2. Consider the character role with a name
When you’re choosing names, there’s a lot more to consider than whether to name the character John Johnson or Kash Casanova. Please don’t use those names. You’ve got to ask yourself a few questions.
- What is the character’s role in the story?
Sometimes it’s good to have the character’s name fit their persona. It’s weird to read about a strong female character with a weak name.
- What’s the character’s lifestyle?
Maybe the character’s name doesn’t fit their role, but it fits their background. If the character is super-wealthy, they might have a rich, snobby-sounding name.
- What’s your character’s family?
Their parents usually name a character, so you’d want to think about what their parents would realistically name them. In Eve the Awakening, Michael Sanchez comes from a normal family, so he has a normal name. On the flip side, Percy is Leopold LaFleur. The third comes from a very wealthy and eccentric family, and his name shows that.
- Where is your character from?
Names like a million other things can be regional.
3. Make a list
Any time you hear a cool name, write it down. Having a name list is so helpful because you never know when you’ll need to add a new character to the mix.
- Diversify the names.
Having Jason and a mason in the same book is not good. Having several names that start with the same letter can be confusing too.
Your readers will get lost if your main characters are named Anna, Aiden, Ashley, Anton, and Amber.
- Be aware of trends.
Names go through periods of being in style and out of style. Fifteen years ago, Emma wasn’t a common name, but now you can’t go anywhere without meeting an Emma. On the flip side, in the 80s, Sharon was a normal name, and now Sharon isn’t so famous.
- If you’re using a trendy name right now, know that it will not be so trendy in about ten years.
You have to decide if you’re okay with that.
4. Consider the genre
A high fantasy character named Bob doesn’t make much sense. But this step goes beyond matching names to genres. It’s also about subgenres and reader expectations.
For example, readers will expect contemporary names if you’re writing contemporary fiction. But if you’re writing young adult contemporary fiction, remember young adult is a category, not a genre. You might get away with contemporary names that are cool or quirky.
For example, in the last young adult contemporary novel I read, two characters were named Bexley and Venus. Another great genre to analyze is romance. If you’re writing wholesome romance, you’ll want to choose cutesy names like Schuyler or Phineas.
But if you’re looking at dark, decadent romance, you’ll want to go for some indulgent names like Anastasia or Isabella. The more otherworldly your story is, the more unique your name will be.
5. Consider the era
If you’re writing historical fiction, you want to use era-appropriate names. Not all of us have era-specific names memorized. So this would be a great time to utilize a Baby Names Archive. It’s easy to find lists online that showcase very popular names within specific eras.
Eras still matter if you’re not writing historical fiction because naming conventions and trends change from decade to decade. If your characters were born in the eighties, consider these types of names: Michael, Christopher, Jessica, and Jennifer. But if your characters were born in the early 2000s, use these names: Joshua, Jacob, Emma, or Madison.
That’s not to say your characters need to have popular names, but if you’re naming your 30-year-old cast based on today’s baby name trends, it’s not that believable.
6. Consider the region and language
If your story takes place in Japan and your characters are Japanese, they should have Japanese names. If your story takes place in West Africa, Cuba, or Indonesia, use regionally appropriate names. If the character immigrates from another country or has a multicultural parent, that could affect their name. So consider this stuff.
If you’re not familiar with the region or the language, do the research. In the US, names can be gendered from region to region and have symbology or meaning. It’s easy to find regional name archives online and then work from there.
7. Understand your world building
You may think you can go crazy with your names to all the world builders because you’ve invented this world. You can create the rules for your world’s naming conventions. So make sure that it’s believable to your readers. If you’re writing a post-apocalyptic version of our world, names like Dave or Sarah could make sense, but not so much in a medieval fantasy world.
Another thing to consider is an inspiration. Even if you create an original world, it might be loosely or heavily inspired by a real-world from our history. Ancient Egyptian-inspired names could work if your world is based on ancient Egypt.
There are worlds created from nothing but the author’s imagination. You’ll need to make up some new names if you’ve invented an entirely new planet in a completely new solar system. So, make sure you’re going with names that your readers can believe.
8. Understand your tone
Sometimes the tone is irrelevant and unbelievable. After all, parents don’t name their children while thinking, What kind of protagonist will my child be? But often, the tone is valuable to consider when naming your characters because it’s fiction. Their parents don’t exist. Here are a few examples to consider.
Are you writing sexy characters? Choose sexy names. At the very least, don’t choose names that would sound ridiculous while being moaned or screamed during acts of passion. Try a relatable name. It often helps to name your characters based on the tone or vibe you are trying to portray.
9. Avoid repeating first letters
Readers read quickly, sometimes too quick for their brain to pick up minute details. Thus, it’s common for people to confuse names that share visual similarities, especially if they share the first letter. That’s not to say you can’t have any character names with the same first letter, but try to avoid it. If it does happen, try to make the names visually different in every other way.
For example, one name only has one syllable, like Jack, and the other has several syllables, like Josiah. Ultimately, you should try to avoid repeating the same first letter for multiple character names. It sounds silly, but it is a common confusion, and you will be saving yourself a major headache.
10. Avoid rhyming
Rhyming names are problematic. They’re spelled very similarly, making them easy for readers to confuse. Tobias and Elias match with rhyming. If your reader enjoys your book via audiobook format, the problem persists.
Also, they may not see similar spellings, but they’ll hear that rhyme. Go through your character names and try to spot any names that look alike or sound alike. It’s time to rename some characters.
Naming characters can be complicated. There are a lot of variables to consider, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. Remember, writing a book is a creative process.
Don’t stress yourself out over character names. Have fun with it. You’re naming people that you invented in your magical cyborg brain. How cool is that? Don’t forget to share your opinion in the comment section.
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