Character Naming Guide
As a writer, be it professional, blog-writer, or hobbyist, you might encounter a time when you need names, not just for your main cast of characters, but for the supporting characters like the nurse who brings your character coffee or the friend who sneaks cigars from their parents’ room to smoke them with a friend. And that job right there, to come up with a name that has not been repeated time and time again with the same mundane meaning as every other characters. If you are that writer who is struggling to come up with a name that you adore for your character or cast of characters, then you have come to the right guide.
Coming up with the right name for your main cast of characters is hard enough, but throw into the mix the fact of support characters who may or may not be floating in and out of your story, and that adds stress if you do not want to go with a basic and generic names that everyone has used before. Regardless of the importance of the character, the name is important. Names in general are important, but in a novel, short story, poem, or other work that has characters, the name can be a make or break-it deal. You want a name that everyone will remember, not just as a “Oh, so-and-so.” But, “Oh, that is so-and-so who did the most remarkable thing in the book even though he/she was not the main character.” Or “So-and-so really won the battle, I’ll never forget it.” You want remarkable names that stand out in people’s memories for as long as time. Names like Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, Samwise Gamgee, Remus Lupin, Susan Pevensie, Aslan, Leven Thumps, Beck Pillage, Fireheart, Graystripe, Brambleclaw, and so on. As a writer, you want to have the name that grabs the person’s attention. As a person, you want the character’s name to be something that is special. As the reader, you want the character’s name to stand out and be worth more than just face value says it is.
Method one expanded:
Switch letters or reverse the word/words
One way I go about naming my characters is unusual and I have not seen very many people use this method. The method that I often use is one of combining words together, changing the letters of them around, or reversing the word entirely and seeing what it comes up with, an example would be “Tree” if I were to change the letters around I could come up with a couple combinations like “Reet, Rete, Etre, Erte.” If I were to reverse it I would come up with “Eert”. Combining words like “Bird” and “Frost” I could get a simple “Birdfrost” or “Frost Bird” or “Rrosbdtif” or “Dribtsorf” or any other random combination that might come out to a name I like.
Character Naming Book
There are nifty books out there that have hundreds of pages devoted to names that you could use for your character. Most of them have name-meanings and most are divided by languages that use that name or what language that name originated from. This method can be a very easy fix for the problem or make the problem more complicated because there are so many names and name meanings that stand out to you. If that in itself comes a problem, then the next best solution for that is to make a list out of the names you have chosen and narrow it down to what you like the best for that particular character. At the end of that process, you can always save the names later for different characters and different ideas.
Baby-naming websites or baby-naming books
This one is like method two. It gives a language that the name is used in, a name meaning, and is generally broken into three sections of boys’ names, girls’ names, and unisex names. The same problems can result of not being able to narrow down a name or having a hard time choosing between them. The same solution is available. With baby-name books or websites there is the added bonus that it tells you the most popular names from that year (usually) and if you want to avoid those names, then it helps you avoid them, and if it gives you a name you like for your character, then it has served its purpose.
When creating a character, the name has to be something that you really want it to be. So, picking a name off the fly, usually does not satisfy the requirement of name. In some cases, it does work. But, usually, hours are spent deciding whether or not that name really fits the character, whether or not that name sticks with people. Often, I find it best to just brainstorm about what you want to name your character. At times it had led me to choose a basic name and other times I have come up with names that astonished me, because I never thought I could come up with something that sounded so catchy and so amazing. Brainstorming for a name can be done in the bubble brainstorming that schools often teach, or in Venn diagrams, or in the web format, or in free writing, or in random brain picking that can result in lots of flukes but will finally result in a diamond, star-studded name.
Taking pages out of a another authors book/website/comic/blog
I will put a disclaimer on this one. I am not stating that you should steal another author’s name, because that would be wrong, what I am saying is look at the way they have done the naming. Oft you can find an interview or something on their website that says about how they came up with their names. One off the top of my head would be J.K. Rowling, there are many places where you can find her original names list and where she crossed out names and how she picked them. When you take a page out of the authors’ book, so to speak, you need to observe the way they did it. Sometimes, if it is a more common name, then it is alright to name your character that, because after all, there are many, many names, which have been used many, many times.
Ask a friend or family member
This method is one that has never failed me yet in coming up with a good name for a character. Friends or family often have a different point of view and can come up with coolest of names for a character regardless of what type of character it is or what their purpose is. It can also be productive to bounce the names off of other people and see what they think, most times they will give an honest opinion.
You’re writing group/buddy/buddies
Even if you are a loner, like me, you have some writers in your life that you likely could bounce ideas off of and brainstorm with. Having writers to talk to about character woes, can be the best medicine to prescribe to any character name issues.
All of these methods may work for you and none of them may work for you, but it might give you some place to start if you are stuck in a character-naming limbo and don’t know where to go or how to start. I hope that this guide has been helpful to you, because I know it helped me to write it.