There are many things to figure out when creating a story. Where does it take place? What’s going on? Why are your characters involved? One of the most important aspects to figure out is something that can be deceivingly difficult; your character’s names. Naming a character can be a walk in the park for some, but others can struggle to find that perfect name. Even when you find a good name, it might be up in the air. It might not work for them later on in the story, and then you’re back to square one. When faced with the character-naming struggle, there are a few ways you can find the perfect name. Here are a few tips to help get you on the right path.
1. Consult the Census
If you are writing a historical novel, or even one that takes place in our modern world, the census is a great asset. This is especially true if you are in the United States and your story takes place in the US as well. First, figure out when your story is taking place. Then, look up “census names for” and then the year or decade of the story. Try to focus on the top 100 or top 150 names when considering your options. This gives you a lot of options, and allows you to use a more unique name if you want. It can also be fun to switch it up a little! If you’re writing a fantasy novel, it might be fun to name your characters names from the 1920s or 1800s. Keep your mind open. You never know what you’ll find!
This option is a bit creepy, but many authors have used this tactic to name their characters. If you are visiting or live in a city with old graveyards, it’s a huge bonus. Take a notebook with you and write down names that you find interesting. Write down first and last names so that you can mix and match when you get home. You might find a great name for a character among many tombstones. This option is great for any novel, not only historic ones. If you do this, there are of course a few rules. Most important, be respectful. Don’t write down the name of someone who’s family is in the cemetery with you. Also, only visit when the cemetery is open and you are able to go inside. As long as you follow these rules, this is a great option to get those creative juices flowing.
3. Baby Name Sites
This a more obvious option, but still a great way to find a name for your character. You can search baby names by region, time-period, origin, and meaning. If you’ve already figured out some attributes of your character, try searching names with meanings that match. Or, you can name your character a name that represents who they will become by the end of the story. Baby name sites are also great because they have an endless list of names that can expand your horizons. If you want your character to have an E name but you’re avoiding Emily or Edward, these sites will give you some great options. They also have names by region and origin, which you can use to find names that match your character’s family background or location.
4. Shakespeare…and other historical texts
He’s back on my blog already! This might not be ideal for all genres, but Shakespeare is a great resource for character names. His plays have interesting names and names that are common even today. You can edit these names to fit in a modern setting, such as a character named Titania who goes by Nia. Many of these names also work in a fantasy setting. After all, Hermione from Harry Potter got her name from Shakespeare! You can also check out classics novels and mythology for name inspiration.
5. Name Generators
When all else fails, these are a great inspiration for character names. There are generators that spit out completely random names. They’re both fun and helpful for characters in our world. There are also generators where you can narrow down the name options by many factors. Either way, you should get many name ideas from this option. As you go, write down the names that the generator recommends to you. Then you can go back to these options later and choose between them. You can also get inspiration for other characters in the future! There are so many generators to choose from, but I found Name-Generator.org.uk has some good options. You can check them out here.
6. Family Tree
This might seem a bit weird, but it’s a great way to find names. If your story takes places in the 1930s, consult your family tree (if you have one) for the time that your characters were born. So if your characters are in their 20s in the 1930s, look at your family tree for peopl born in the 1910s. If you have the information available to you, looking at names on both sides of your family is a great way to come up with a unique name. For one of my stories, I named a character after the first name of my great-great paternal grandmother. Her last name was from my maternal great-grandmother’s side of the family. This is also a great way to get to know your family better while you’re writing a story! Or find some wacky names in your family history.
Have you ever tried these tactics to name your characters? What is your favorite way to find names for your characters? Let me know in the comments below! If you’ve found a way to name your characters that I haven’t mentioned, leave a comment. I’m always looking for new ways to approach the writing process! I hope this post has helped you jump start your character-naming process. Thanks so much for reading and happy writing!