Fictional Character Names: Six Techniques For Name Creation


I have no name: I am but two days old. What shall I call thee? ~ William Blake

When you first meet a new fictional character, she will often reveal herself slowly. Maybe first, a mental image of her general appearance, or a quick glimpse at her situation and goals. You feel excited as you begin to plan your story or outline, and rush to your keyboard or notebook.

Before that first sentence is written, you come upon an unsettling discovery. You don’t know your character’s name! Often, new characters are not forthcoming with their names, and you have to rack your brain to come up with one, instantly short-circuiting the writing process.

A name is a crucial yet overlooked part of the author’s decision making process. People form associations with different names, and a character named “Sir William T. Rutherford of Devonshire” will create a different impression from one named “Willie McGee”. Here are some considerations when naming a fictional character.

Fictional Character Naming Techniques

  1. Consider your story’s setting. Odd place to start, right? A modern day setting lends itself to names we are all familiar with, while a historical setting often has more elaborate names, including the character’s title and homeland. In a futuristic story, a fictional characters name can be as familiar or fantastical as you desire!
  2. Research the setting. If your story is in a small town, it’s quite possible that you could unintentionally come up with the name of a real human being. A quick trip to the yellow pages can save you a lot of grief later on in the writing process. Historical stories also face the problem of copying the name of a real world figure, although some writers do choose to incorporate public figures into their novels.
  3. Compare other character names. If you’ve already named a few of your characters, review how their names work together. Their name can give subtle clues about your characters’ ethnicity, social status, and how they see themselves (in the case of nicknames). Look out for alliteration! Readers can become confused when multiple characters’ names start with the same letter.
  4. Browse baby naming books and websites. Hundreds of thousands of names can be found in baby naming literature, saving both parents and writers a lot of time and trouble. They often including name meanings and origins, which can help your character portray the right characteristics.
  5. Examine your friends’ and family members’ names – for names not to choose! No one wants to try to explain to a loved one that they did not write a story about them. Play it safe, and put those names on your permanent “Do Not Name” list.
  6. Create your own name. If nothing is calling out to you, you can always piece together your own name. Science fiction and fantasy novels often include otherworldly names, which look like a random mishmash of syllables. As long as your name follows conventional linguistic patterns, readers should be able to pronounce the name to themselves while reading. (A tip: No more than three consonants go in a row without a vowel in most English words.)

How do you decide on your characters’ names? Do they come fully equipped with names, or do you have to coax them out? Have you ever created your own name? Share your techniques here!

Recommended: Five more tips for writers on naming fictional characters at BabyNames.com

Photo Credit: 05-28-06 © Ronald Bloom

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Kimberlee Ferrell

As a freelance writer and blogger, Kimberlee Ferrell has developed some keen insights on web publishing. She is capable of crafting superior articles, blog posts, and web copy that can empower your business, helping you to get noticed in the digital sea. She has lived in multiple states all across the U.S., and has a unique worldview and a fresh perspective to incorporate in your freelance writing needs. From the midnight lights of Las Vegas to the down home hospitality of Huntsville, she has used each experience to hone her writing skills and expand her knowledge. Now located in small town Iowa, she has renovated her freelance writer career. Her main areas of focus are tarot, spirituality, and writing.

6 thoughts on “Fictional Character Names: Six Techniques For Name Creation”

  1. Shortly before my daughter was born I did what tip #6 suggests. I created my own name. Just like many boys are given their father’s first or second name, I wanted my daughter to have a part of my name so I created her name from a part of my own. I thought it was unique.

    Three days after she was born, we took her to the mall for her first trip out of the house. There I met THREE people who had her name. Each had a different way of spelling it but the pronunciation was identical. I was kicking myself because I’d already filed her birth certificate. So much for a unique name. But, at least her name is rooted in mine. 🙂

    You may remember when I introduced The Craft of Writing Fiction’s name that I had very intricate reasons for choosing a new name for this site. One of the contributing factors was Numerology. I’ve been doing all sorts of research and considered lots of names from the famous, historical, local, and even my own family. The “rightness” of their numerological meanings to their true personality continues to amaze me.

    So, when I name my characters, I now compare their names with Numerology to see if their name gives me the kind of character I want and to gather more information so that I can build their character to suit their numerological name.

  2. That’s a sweet story! I gave my oldest daughter my middle name for her middle name. It’s sort of a tradition in our family.

    Naming websites is just as crucial as naming characters! Although, for SEO purposes and memorableness, naturally.

    And I love numerology! It can give tons of great ideas for character development

  3. This is so true for me – picking character names can kill me. Especially last names. I use a lot of the devices you’re describing for first names, but when it comes to last names, I will frequently let the phone book fall open to a random page, and just pick a last name…as long as it doesn’t contradict the origins of my character.

  4. I totally agree. I recently named a character for a sci-fi book I’m writing. The character is a robot. I needed something funny yet simple and I arrived with Zero. It works in my story. I would have chosen #1 but it was taken.

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