How do you name your characters?

I ask this because I’ve always had trouble naming my characters — let alone remembering their names once I’ve come up with them! If you watched one of my recent vlogs, you’ll recall me admitting that one of the characters in Imminent Danger started off named Vallin, and then changed halfway through to Varrin because I forgot his name. Eek. Obviously that has been corrected, but still … eek.

I have several naming methods for my characters, some of which are more or less ridiculous than the others. Are you prepared to bathe in the gentle hurricane that is my wisdom? Awesome. Here are my naming methods, in no particular order:

Drawing inspiration from surrounding signage

My favourite example of this is a character from one of my WIPs. I knew her name was Caroline, because I love that name, but I couldn’t figure out what her last name was. I was sitting in Starbucks one day, looked up, and saw a McDonald’s Drive Through sign. I stood from my chair, shrieked “EUREKA!”, and Caroline Drive was born.

Basing names off of a character’s species

This one mainly applies to all my crazy aliens in Imminent Danger. If you’ve read the book, you’ll know there’s a race of six-armed, blue scaled lizard men called the Ssrisk. How did I name them? Easy. What sound do reptiles and snakes make? Hsssssss. Hssssssss … Sssssssssssrisk … EUREKA!

Naming after friends / family

Not main characters, obviously, but I’ve definitely done this with locations. The Barlow Collegiate Institute, for example, in Imminent Danger, is named after my best friend. Anyone who’s followed the adventures of “Immin Dang” (my ill-fated book cover) will also be happy to know that there is now an Imindang district in a new alien city they visit in the sequel.

Classical allusions / Pop culture references

This one is obviously my main character, Eris — aka the Greek goddess of Discord. I actually first fell in love with that name when my brother introduced me to Final Fantasy VII (you know, that iconic game where Aeris is famously stabbed by Sephiroth and dies despite the fact that resurrection spells are very common in that universe?). So I combined the two and came up with Eris, abductee extraordinaire. Woo!

Making up names that sound cool

I love names with Vs and Rs in them. Oooh, and Zs! I’m a sucker for a good Z. Hence my awesomely-named emperor of Rakor, Ka’zarel. Booya. Note how I included a totally unnecessary apostrophe in his name for style.


How do you name your characters? What’s your favourite name that you’ve ever come up with?


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120 thoughts on “How do you name your characters?

  1. I wrote a short story once called “The Ire of Bob”. It was about an angry man who became a prisoner of his own shallow abilities to respond to his world with the layers of abstraction that would enable him to cultivate anything fulfilling in terms of experience. In this case, a simple name like “Bob” seemed to fit, so if fitting is the axiom for value, Bob hit the target in that case. Thanks for the post. Very interesting.

    • Thanks 🙂 And I have always had a strange fondness for the name Bob. I think it stems from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Have you seen that movie? Bill and Ted wander through history collecting various historical figures to help with their history presentation, but in one scene Bill’s mother shows up and they have to explain why they have various historical figures in their backyard. So they start introducing them using the most ridiculous names ever, including “Socrates Johnson” and “Bob Genghis Khan”. And I have loved the name Bob ever since. The end 🙂

  2. With me it’s random. I just pick a name I think fits the idea of the character and go from there. I did however, forget the name of my character once and spell it wrong for a couple of chapters:)

  3. Most of my character’s first names come from the last names found in the phone book. Then, comes the hard part. last names should sound real and help define the character in some way. last names come to me while I write. To remember names, i write them on a post-it and tack it to my bulletin board next to my writing desk.

    • Clever! I do write down such things from time to time, but I ran out of thumb tacks ages ago so now the papers just stack up on my desk and are no help at all. A sensible person would just buy more thumb tacks, but I take great delight in being completely nonsensical.

  4. I try to pick names that sort fit the character’s “vibes”, or sometimes I try do the opposite. When I’m stuck I always end up on baby name websites somehow. Those are made for expecting parents, but I think writers use them almost more often!

    • Oh, definitely — baby name websites all the way. I should have included baby name website on my list! I love that they explain the meaning of the names, so you don’t accidentally give your character a name that means something silly, like mud-roller, or something.

  5. Great post – a bit like putting the ‘Making of IDahtFSII’ – Disc 2 into the DVD player.

    My main character in ‘A Construct of Angels’, Sara Finn, is so named because her name is a close homophone of Seraphim, one of the choirs of angels. Her name was designed to cause confusion when the other main character, Michael, hears it and believes her to BE one of the Seraphim. Michael (Angelo Ward) was named because two characters panicked and made up the name on the spot. Michael was Sara Finn’s missing brother; Sara’s colleague stupidly threw in Angelo, and as they were in a hospital, Ward was an inspiration for his surname. A case of a character deliberately being given an unlikely name.

    Honest, it makes sense if you read the book. 😀 Just ask Michelle.

    • I love when names have secret meanings that are revealed as the story progresses. Sirius Black, for example … black dog? Awesome.

  6. I have a whole blog post planned about this. My history with naming characters is… confusing. Also disturbed. I just found out a few days ago that I have to change one of my characters’ names because hers and her brother’s are the same as the protagonists in a very popular YA series that I’d somehow managed to avoid seeing referenced. And she was the only important character who HADN’T had her name changed yet…


    I’m NOT changing his name. I struggled for too long to find it. But hers… *sigh* It’s perfect for her, but what can you do?

    Thank you for allowing us to bathe in the gentle hurricane that is your wisdom, and for using that phrase. I enjoyed it. 🙂

    • Hahaha did you? I added it in at the last second on a whim — apparently it was a good decision.

      Yeah, it definitely sucks when you have the perfect name and then some jerk author goes along and writes a best-selling novel with those names. Sigh. I guess the only thing to do is Google the name you’re planning to use, then cross your fingers and hope there isn’t already someone famous by that name.

      • Yep. Honestly, one of the reasons I want to get the book published sooner rather than later is so I can do it before someone else happens to use my main characters’ names. So far, so good, but every time a new book comes out the people have to be named SOMETHING… and I worked too damned hard on their names to have to give them up.

  7. You are not alone. I’ve have either forgotten or changed names plenty of times. That’s why “find and replace” is so handy! I sometimes just google lists of names and, if I am writing about a specific time period, I google popular names for those years. After that it’s plain old Bob or Susan or Tom or Jane or….Hamilton. Yeah, there’s an unusual first name–Hamilton! …it’s origin is Gaelic for “ton of ham.” …okay, I’m done.

  8. This may sound silly… but I use baby name books and search engines. It can be time consuming while searching (‘unique baby names’, ‘interesting baby names’, ‘just give me my damn characters’ names baby names’, etc.). But I usually stumble upon a name that “feels right”.

    • Isn’t it great, how when you find the right one, you just know that it’s right? No hemming or hawing, just “Yes, this is the one, let’s do this!!! RAWR!!!”

    • I’ve used baby names websites, they’re so handy! Especially the ones where you can search by meaning as well as by name, first letter, first few letters, origin, etc. Great resource, even if you’re just playing around and looking for inspiration. Also fun when you’ve already picked a name and find out that the meaning is absolutely perfect for your character, or so far off base that it becomes perfect. 🙂

      • That’s what I love most – knowing the meaning behind it. Sometimes at first a name will sit awkwardly with me, but if the meaning aligns with a character – ahhhh, that beautiful moment happens when you’ve just named your literary baby!

        • That happened to me with Aren. I put his name together just playing with bits of other names, knowing I liked the letter “A” for him, fiddling around… and then I found out it was a real name/spelling, and its Scandinavian meaning is bang-on perfect for him, so much that I doubt anyone would believe I picked the name before I knew the meaning. *cue Twilight Zone theme music*

  9. “Do you know the way to Immindang, I’ve been away so long…”

    • “It’s a long long way to Immindang, but the girls of the city, they look so prettttttttttttty …”

      Avatar The Last Airbender reference.

  10. LOL on the unrelated media of the day. I appreciate that your posts are always full of energy and fun, but that you provide other entertainment as well. 😉 The way you choose names is very creative.

    Susan Hunter’s last name came about because I was looking at clothing and saw the color hunter green. Mick’s name came from a list of sexy names somewhere, and I went down the list and picked out a few I thought I’d like to kiss. Mick kissed better than the others. I’ve used relatives first names and last names. Dectective Bentley is the last name of a group of relatives, and he’s portrayed as a smart aleck in the first book. No one has complained, so that let’s me know none of them have read my book. 🙂

    • Hahaha that’s actually a really awesome way to test if your family/friends are reading what you write. Just put in obvious references to them and see if anyone complains 😀 Love it!!!

  11. Depends on the character and my mood. Many times I’ve plucked names out of the air or made them by combining letters until I got something that I liked. Lately, I started using baby naming books and randomly opening to pages for minor characters or tracking down a name with a specific meaning for major characters.

    • Baby name books are definitely useful. Plucking names out of thin air is also awesome. Oh dang, should have mentioned this in my post — one of the characters in Imminent Danger, Fino’jin the Skin Slicer, was a result of me being bored at work one day and turning to a co-worker and saying “Give me the name of my villainous alien commander”. And he was like “Fino’jin” and I was like “YES! IT IS MINE!” and then quickly excusing myself before he could judge me.

      • Asking friends is definitely fun, but high risk, way of doing character naming. I asked a friend for a female character name and he told me ‘Fluffy McStreetcorner’. His idea was rejected by the advisory committee I call my wife.

        • Oh geez. You should have written him a special short story featuring Fluffy McStreetcorner so he could see for himself what a terrible name it was.

  12. Ah ha ha! I like how you managed to stick Immen Dang in there. That’s kind of like a special little kick for those of us who have been around for awhile and got to witness all of that silliness first-hand. 8) EASTER EGG!

    I also have a myriad of ways that I come up with character names. Sometimes my friend Amanda and I have whole Skype conversations that focus around looking up name lists on the internet and bouncing them off of one another. “What about Delaney? Desiree? Dreya?” “Well we already picked Gregale for the last name, which one sounds best with that?” Sometimes this can last for hours, especially when you’re feeling picky and you have to go from A-Z.

    When I’m alone, names can come from anywhere. Sometimes I use names I have used for things like World of Warcraft or other games, occasionally with slight modifications. A lot of the names for Life of Gaia came from googling ‘Random Name Generators’ and going through a lot of THOSE until I found sounds, letter combinations, or names that were close to what I wanted, and then just changing them a bit.

    Gaia’s name was hard, and it went through like three changes from the early planning stages till I finally really got going. Eventually I settled on ‘Gaia’ because it is an Earthy name, and it sounded good with ‘The Life of’ in front of it.

    Names are important! They convey such an essence of your character, and it’s not like you can change it when everything is said and done, so you want to take your time and make sure you’ve picked the right name. More than once I have named a character something in haste, because they needed a name, but went back in the middle and changed it again without warning. When it’s right, it’s right, but when it’s wrong, it’s wrong!

    • Ha, names from WoW. I absolutely adore the name Arthas, but I have a feeling that if I borrowed it for a book, everyone would just think “Lich King” whenever they read it. Ah well. That game really does come up with the best names, though.

      I like the name Gaia. Very earthy, like you said, and mystical as well. I want to read your book just from the title, which is definitely a good thing 🙂

      I’ve always found that the tricky part of naming characters is picking names that don’t come across as Mary Sue-ish. That was always my problem with Twilight. Bella Swan? Really? Sigh. And then a lot of the male names I really like — including Damien, which I ❤ — is considered to horribly over-used name. Ah well.

      • xD I don’t copy the WOW people names! (At least not on purpose.) I mean my own characters. The names I come up with for them. Because yes, WOW has some sweet names, but LOTS of people play that game. xD And if I have to say ‘I didn’t name so-and-so after them!’ I want to say it honestly. xD
        I’m glad the title seems intriguing! I mean, that’s half the battle, right? Getting someone to want to read it? And a terrible title is… well, just that. 😛
        You’re right though. There’s just so much to consider when you’re naming someone. Although honestly I never minded Bella Swan–I mean, Emma from Once Upon A Time’s last name is Swan, and I think Bella just got a bad rap after-the-fact–but still. Damien IS kind of a well-known name for… you know… Evil-y characters. Just all things to consider. x)

  13. Corbett Russwin is my favorite character name, he’s named after a lock manufacturer (well, the lock brand is actually “Corbin-Russwin”). Godiva is named after the chocolate, and her last name, “Millerson” is a reference to Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”. James is from “James And The Giant Peach” and Ozryck is because I wanted something hard to spell and remember (a technique people use when creating fake IDs). Alice Mason is from “Alice In Wonderland” and the Order Of Masons, since she is a student of occult knowledge. Keith Morgan was named after J P Morgan, with “Keith” as a first name because it’s always struck me as kind of dorky.

    • Reference names are the best. Just so long as you aren’t referencing a real company or person that can sue you. Then it’s not quite the best any more. James! I will forever associate the name James with Harry Potter (his dad), because I am a hopeless Potter-phile and I doubt either medication or therapy will ever cure me.

  14. I like the name Caroline Drive, it’s pretty cool!

    And the picture at the bottom, extreme lol. 😀

    • Hahahaha. Oh, foreign languages and their unintentionally hilarious meanings in English.

      Caroline Drive’s pretty awesome, right? I came up with the name without really having a story, so now I need to make sure her story lives up to her name. Oh, the pressure!

  15. I also love working in ancient Greek and Roman names, especially for places. Like a couple other commenters mentioned, baby name websites are super helpful!

  16. Papizilla

    Reblogged this on The Ranting Papizilla and commented:
    Another good writing post people! How do you name your characters? Let Michelle know! How I do it is a secret! (Translation: I have no idea…)

  17. I honestly just pick names that I like, but steer away from too common last nights (e.g. Jones, Smith). Nothing wrong with those names. They just don’t seem original enough to me. Great post!

    • Thanks 🙂 Yes, you don’t want to go too boring with the names, unless you’re purposely creating a character that’s supposed to be really plain — or, alternatively, that’s supposed to have a really plain name. For example, the movie Mr. and Mrs. Smith — they chose their names on purpose to fly under the radar. But otherwise, down with boring names!!!

  18. Haha, it’s nice that you made use of your wonky title! Imindang sounds like an interesting name for a district indeed.
    I don’t give much thought to names. Usually they just sorta… come to me? I just go with whatever first comes to mind and it always fits! When I was younger I used to have sheets filled with names categorized by alphabetical order, and whenever I started a new story I would just go through them and decide which name works best. I still have those sheets, but I never refer to them anymore. xD

  19. I just pick a name for the first draft. Keep it simple and wait for them to form in my mind, then I have a better idea of a name that suits them. I change a lot of names midway through or during the second draft unless I’m really happy with their name.

  20. First of all, the unrelated photo cracked me up! Secondly, I’ve been following your progress and I love the fact that you took what would be a sad story to some writers and turned it into a positive (re: ” there is now an Imindang district in a new alien city they visit in the sequel.”) I think that shows character and specifically shows your character: Turning a negative into a positive. Well done, Michelle!

    • Hahaha thank you. I feel like if I don’t look at the lighter side of things, it would all just drive me insane. And insanity is not a good look on me. 😀

  21. Crowdsourcing names for my collaborative short story project has been interesting. Some people were strongly for or against certain names, but often times it was the same name. It has been interesting to say the least.

    For fantasy names, I usually start with a normal name and morph it into something that fits the character and background. Change an I for a Y, that sort of thing.

    For modern stories, I pick a name that hasn’t been on the US census top 100 names in the last few years. You want a character name that is unique, not one for a guy or girl who sat in your homeroom, unless they had a cool name like Axel or Roxanna. Yeah, I think X’s make names super awesome.

    • Axel is a fantastic name. I’m seriously considering using it in a story, except that it sadly doesn’t fit with the naming flavour I’m going for. Naming flavour. Is that a thing? It should be.

  22. I spend allot of time on sites for baby names or name meanings. In the next book I’m writing I chose the name Cardea because it means “new day,” which has significance in my story. I really like taking into consideration the root meaning of a name and then altering it to a modernized form.

  23. How about putting together Latin words to make them sound official and authentic?

  24. I love the pic of the book store (got a great giggle out of that!)

    Since I started blogging I look at other bloggers names now for inspiration. I’ve always looked through the credits on movies (some of those Hollywood people have fantastic names). I look at biblical names and also ancient Greek gods and goddesses. I also look through the translation list of names on the net (if my character is Spanish and gentle, I’ll look for a name that means ‘gentle’ in Spanish and work on that. I loved reading about how others bloggers find names. Great post 😀

    • Thanks 🙂 I envy you the plethora of naming methods you use! I never even thought of consulting the Bible for names, although it certainly makes sense in retrospect. Just as long as you choose carefully — e.g., James, not Nimrod. And for all inquiring minds, Nimrod is apparently the king of Shinar, son of Cush, and great grandson of Noah. Who knew?

  25. Names are always a challenge. One reason I haven’t attempted the fantasy genre is because I have no idea how to think up any of those exotic names!
    So my character (and place) names tend to be fairly standard westernised and boring names. Must address this one day.
    Having said that, the first large project I attempted tentatively called Rani’s Right features an Indian-Malaysian girl from Singapore (good mix, huh?) I think the name came to me one day on a tram on the way to work. I thought I made the name up but have since heard it around quite a bit so I must have heard it before and my subconscious tricked me into thinking I had some originality! Anyway what I later discovered, which was quite freaky in its appropriateness, was that Rani is the Hindu goddess of love & beauty (equivalent to Venus and Aphrodite, I think)
    I must finish that story some time…

  26. Gwen

    I don’t write sci-fi, so I do not have the challenge you do in naming other-worldly creatures! I can’t explain how I name my characters. When I’m developing them, thinking about their unique characteristics, the names just come to me. I don’t force it. But without fail, the name pops into my head one day, and bam! there it is.

  27. Reblogged this on Robin Writes.

  28. I’m new at this naming thing. For my current book I used the word describing the theme of the story, then picked a foreign language and used the matching word.

    • That’s a classic naming strategy – nice! I’ve recently been using a lot of Old English influences for my names. Not as sophisticated-sounding as Latin, but great for more down-to-earth sounding names.

  29. Reblogged this on Time to Write and commented:
    Naming. Lots of great ideas in the post and comments.

  30. I always have trouble with this – should they have a full name, just one name, how do I introduce the name without it seeming forced? I usually just draw from inspiration. My latest novel the character was named after the airport in one of my favorite TV shows. Not sure why, but it just seemed right.

    • Hey, if it’s right, it’s right. Or write! Hahaha. A little literary humour for you there. As for introducing names … gah. There’s no easy way, is there? Unless you start the story with “Hi. My name’s Sharlene. I’m a serial killer.” or something. Actually, that would be an awesome story. I need to go write that.

  31. Awesome topic I love the naming game for me my characters either come to me name first or their characteristics lead me to a name. I mainly pick english or scottish names they just fit best for me.

  32. First off, awesome post.

    You know, this is something that’s been troubling me of late. I use some of the same things you do… Random signs, so on and so forth. I also use classical and pop culture references. Most often, though, I’ll visit a name generator or just make up a word. Some names, I come up with based on their cultures and their similarity to real cultures. Like, I have a character called “Galthatine Gilcaecius”, who’s an emperor. I was going for romanesque with that one. Then I have Musashi Akira, the main hero of the tale. That one’s obvious; his culture I based on the Japanese (and Miyamoto Musashi is history’s ultimate badass!).

    Here are some of my recent favorite sites: and I find that Role Playing Game sites, like the D&D sorts, are good for name generators (though, they’re geared more towards medieval type fantasies).

    • Nice!!! I’ve added these to my “Inspiration” bookmarks folder. Hopefully I’ll make great use of them in the decades to come 😀 Also, the name Galthatine Gilcaecius is awesome.

  33. Sometimes, if I wait long enough, they will tell me their name. Other times even they do not know so I have to hunt one down. The end credits of TV shows and movies are a good source for me. I will pause it and move first and surnames around to get something interesting or one might jump out at me. Old movies are the very best.

    • I didn’t even think of movies/TV! And that’s very silly of me, because I love watching movie credits and laughing at silly names. Awesome idea!!!

  34. I bought a baby name book for a quarter at a book sale a few years ago and it has proved to be invaluable! Sometimes just reading the meaning of a name ignites an idea for a story. I also keep a notebook for each project I’m working on, and one page is always designated as the cast list. Helps me to keep them straight – though I’ve renamed a few a long the way too 🙂

    • Especially if the name has several meanings — so the character you originally planned to be all upstanding and good now has secret, kleptomaniac tendencies because the name you picked means both “loyal” and “devious”. Or something. 😀

  35. I named a book and a character after a road sign!
    ‘Findo Gask’ is the name of a small village in Scotland. I saw it when driving past and loved the name so much I knew I had to create a character called Findo Gask – which later grew to become the book called ‘The Tale Of Findo Gask’.
    I was slightly annoyed several years later to find out that Terry Brooks had also used the name for a demon in one of his novels!
    Then there was a Scottish band called Findo Gask but they’ve since disbanded so now it’s just my thief and a demon.

    • Well, you’ll just have to make sure your incarnation of Findo Gask becomes more popular than Terry Brooks’s demon. Then world domination shall be yours!

  36. I haunt baby-naming sites until I come up with something I like. Or, I might make a variation on a common name to make it something original. Then I try to ensure it doesn’t sound to similar to the other names in my MS and that it doesn’t start with the same letter as any other major character.

    • Yes! I am constantly starting all my names with the same letter, and then I can’t for the life of me tell them apart. One of my books had a Casey and a Callie as the main characters — recipe for disaster if there ever was one. Now Callie is Kyra, which is still a kuh sound, but at least it’s a different letter, lol.

  37. So far I haven’t run into a problem of naming my characters. The names just pop into my head as I think about the story. I am working on a book that the hero will be named after a friend, because he asked to be the hero. Whoever heard of a hero named, Fred sweeping the girl off of her feet? Oh well. It’s actually kind of nice to have some common names. I used Meaning of Names to find the right names for each heroine in a series I am working on.

    • I think that was one of the main appeals of Harry Potter. If he’d been named something grandiose, like Gareth Von Mortmain or something, it would have been a lot harder to connect with the character and imagine ourselves in his shoes. Because his name was simple — like your hero Fred — it was like, “Hey, he’s just a regular Joe like us, awesome”. 🙂

      • I never thought about it that way, but Gareth would make a great name for the high society snob my heroine would be running away from. 🙂 The only time I have had a problem with mixing up names, was when I was working on two books at the same time and would type in the wrong heroine’s name into the story. Good thing I caught it before I published or I would have people scratching their heads wondering who’s Amy when the heroine was Kelly! LOL!

        • Hahahaha oh man, that would have been bad, wouldn’t it? And then the reader would be like “Amy? Am I supposed to remember this person? Oh God! Flip back through book and find this name!!!!”

  38. Good post. It’s true, you have to look around you for inspiration. I once made the mistake of writing a story with a bunch of completely bland names. The idea was that I would change them and that getting the story down was more important.

    Thing is, as time went on, I got used to THOSE names. Changing them was such hard work after that. It took me ages to get used to them all – I kept thinking, “How can I have this book ready to go, and I don’t know the main character’s name!” 🙂

    • Lol. I have a similar problem, except with the title of my book. I spent the first three years or so calling it “Varrin”, and then changed the name and spent the next three years calling it “The Reluctant Xenophile”. Now it’s “Imminent Danger”, which I remember most of the time, but when I talk to my mother, I’ll often slip up and just call it “Varrin”, which can get very confusing at times 😀

      • Ha, yes! I have “The Khekarian Threat” – used to be spelled “Kakairian” but by the time it was polished and ready to go – lo and behold, someone else had grabbed the name. After that, just about every spelling variation was gone. I think I only just made it with “Khekarian”.

        I like your title, “Imminent Danger.” Sounds good! Cheers! 😀

  39. Pingback: What’s In a Name? Everything. | disregard the prologue

  40. I usually go with the friends/family thing, the ‘cool’ sounding names, the uncommon & unusual, or a name related to that character’s role/specialty

    • The “name related to that character’s role/specialty” one is always fun, especially if the link is very subtle, so when you finally figure out why the character’s name actually fits them perfectly, you have that AHA! moment.

  41. Sometimes I just make them up… or for most of the time, the name just comes… like this… like the character is naming itself… Or I choose from a list of my favourite names, which I keep in mind, and I go from them to maybe make up new and more suitable ones.

  42. beatniksifu

    For me names inform the character’s personality and they tell me what happens next. Every once in a while against my will. But then I could reassert my control over the character by changing their name to fit how I want things to go. The most fun I had coming up with a name went something like this:

    I started with a western setting. I wanted strong female characters so I immediately thought of a real person from the era, Calamity Jane. I wanted a tougher sounding name so I changed the name to Paine, then all of a sudden she had two sisters Purity and Chastity. Then things got weird I realized all their names were qualities which, I learned that it was fairly common to name children after the deadly sins or the heavenly virtues. Then the family all of a sudden had a complicated history to boot involving love triangles, remarriages, an unwed mother, and a murder. A full family history and the beginnings of a plot. I had all these girls most of them with the last name Paine. I thought Calamity would be my central character. and instead I got Industria who wasn’t named Paine even though secretly she should have been named Paine. Industria needed to work hard and endure some emotional pain to earn the name Industria Paine.

    I had absolutely no plot to begin with and as I sorted out and played with the names I had one, before I even got down to working out the plot. I just had to figure out the genealogy and a revenge plot and a mystery was set up by the character relationships alone.

    • That’s awesome 😀 And with a name like Calamity Paine, how could you not come up with an insanely cool family like you’re describing?

  43. I usually pick a cultural influence for the character, then scour baby name websites until I find something that seems to fit.

    If that doesn’t work, I message friends and ask for ideas. I’ve actually gotten a few really good ones that way.

    • Friends are excellent for name ideas, especially when you don’t tell them why you want the name. Then they tend to be more creative, which leads to silly answers, but can also lead to brilliant ones 😀

      • Yes! That’s exactly what I do! I see what responses they give without and context, then comment on why it doesn’t work for me (too proper, too girly-girl, not edgy enough, etc) and see what they come up with. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it at least points me in a new direction and gets me out of a naming rut.

      • Yes! That’s exactly what I do! I see what responses they give without and context, then comment on why it doesn’t work for me (too proper, too girly-girl, not edgy enough, etc) and see what they come up with. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it at least points me in a new direction and gets me out of a naming rut.

  44. Pingback: 5 Adventure names and plots » Ennead Games

  45. Great topic! I, too, have various methods. Sometimes characters fall out of the sky (Peter McBunterbeans, for one), sometimes they are a parody of somebody in the room (Anne De Manda = Amanda), but for books (alright, BOOK, as I’ve really only got the one so far) I try to use a combination of names that I like with something that is significant to that person’s character. I like lacing my names with hidden meaning. Mwhaha…

    Also, I am a fan of the eurekas and booyas that pepper this post 😀

  46. When I first started “Acceptance” in college, my vampires had sci-fi names, and Anselm was “Azliem.” When I started my book over from scratch, I realized that they needed real names since they had been born as humans in the real world. So Azliem became Anselm–a name which is quite uncommon today, but which was very popular in the 13th century when he was born; there’s even a St. Anselm.

    Micah was a name I came across when searching through the Bible, looking for unusual names (there’s all you could ever want in there!). Micah was “Trallick” in the original version of the story–a name I didn’t like anyways. When I started renaming characters, “Micah” was top on my list.

    Minor characters are named after a lot of people I know. I also use the internet to look up lists of names for certain groups of people (e.g. Jewish names). I’m lucky that Scrivener has a name generator, so I don’t even have to log onto the internet anymore (or flip through the phone book). I tell it what culture I want and it generates first and last names for me.

    I also have a list I compiled of old-fashioned/unusual names that can be good for historic characters and even sci-fi characters:

    • Oooh nice list — adding that to my Inspiration bookmark folder. Wait … so your vampires used to be space vampires??? As in … aliens? I highly approve. I can’t believe space vampires isn’t a bigger genre. Think of the possibilities!

      I love Anselm and Micah’s names, although I’m never quite sure how to pronounce Anselm — I assume it’s something like “An-sum”, unless the L isn’t silent? And Micah is LOADS better than Trallick.

      My penchant for naming characters/objects after nearby signage is still going strong. Yesterday I named a type of bean after my mother’s Nielson coffee creamer containers. Sigh.

  47. Maya Panika

    I’m afraid I don’t have any trouble at all naming my characters, the names just come to me. Sometimes before the characters emerge. I see them and I know their names,then I have to keep writing to find out who they are.

    • Lucky! So you never find yourself changing a character’s name halfway through a story?

      • Maya Panika

        I don’t know if it’s lucky, it’s just the way my mind seems to work. Often I know their names before I know anything else about them at all. Only very rarely do I change names. I’ve only done it twice, once when I realised I’d inadvertently named a character after someone famous (that I’d never heard of!) in ‘real life’ – :). I really don’t like doing it, the name is an important part of the character for me. Usually I build a personality backwards from the name, their names are very important to me.

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