Do you ever struggle with the naming process, when it comes to your characters? Most of us, to some degree, do.
Choosing names for our fictional people can be fun. It can also be time-consuming and frustrating. These tips have helped me, and hopefully some of them will be useful to you.
I should mention that the tips are applicable to realistic fiction, and I don’t cover naming characters in genres such as fantasy. Names used in these genres tend to be specifically invented, or extremely rare, and I don’t personally have experience in this area.
1. Use baby name websites, such as Nameberry and Behind the Name.
There is so much valuable information on these sites, making them excellent resources for writers.
2. Baby name books can also be useful.
As a writer of modern historical fiction, I actually find it a bonus that the name books I own are somewhat out of date.
3. Search online for popular names from specific years, for your own country, or the one in which your story is set.
This is, again, particularly relevant for writers of historical fiction. Remember to take into account the age of specific characters, regardless of whether or not your setting is historical. If your story is set in 1983, for example, you may look up the most popular names for 1983 – but possibly the most popular baby names of 1960 or 1970 will be more relevant.
4. Avoid having too many character names that begin with the same letter, or have a similar sound, particularly if those characters are going to appear together in many scenes, throughout the story.
If two names start with the same letter, but have a different number of syllables, and don’t have a similar sound, it may work. There are twins named Jade and Jessica in my work in progress, and this feels fine to me, but Jade and Jane would be confusing.
5. It can be tempting to simply give characters your favourite names.
We all do it, to some extent. Just don’t name all of them as if they were your own children. Presumably, not every character in your novel is supposed to have the same parents, or be from the same background. Try to consider what particular fictional parents might realistically have named their children.
6. For surnames, phone directories or similar lists can be useful.
I sometimes take names from the authors on my bookshelves. Non-fiction titles often work best for this. Ensure that first and last names sound right together.
7. Once you have a first and last name combination that feels right to you – and preferably before you have become too attached to it – do a Google search, to ensure that there isn’t someone well-known with the same name.
We might assume that, if someone was famous, we would have heard of them, but that isn’t necessarily true. Certainly in my own case, I wouldn’t have a clue about some of the celebrities out there.
8. Don’t overthink the process.
Enjoy naming your fictional people, and remember that you can always change the names, at a later date, if any of them don’t work out.
It’s usually best to have names in your notes and draft, even if you aren’t entirely happy with your choices, and intend to alter them. It’s equivalent to having a working title for your WIP and, like that title, your character names are by no means set in stone.
From a psychological point of view, it tends to be easier to work with a provisionally named story, containing characters with “that will do for now” names.
I mean, Girl A. and Girl B. and Bloke A. and Bloke B. in “Untitled Novel”…? Enough said.
My post on character development might be of interest.