Advice from YOU: Character Names

Monday on Twitter, Movellas tweeted a fascinating question: how do you come up with names for your characters? We retweeted, and got a load of interesting responses. So in case you missed it (or you want to just file these away to have while you’re writing), here’s a run-down of the suggestions:

Maria Louise J (@MLJDK):Sometimes I look through pages with babynames. It’s a good thing, if your character is spanish for example. 😉

Sophiesimplson (@screamsSkl): I think of names I really like and how they fit their characters. e.g: a bad boy- bad boy Darren/zak. good boy-antony

Matt Hutchinson (@matthwrites): I use English place names as surnames if I get stuck. Obscure ones though – I haven’t called anyone Jeff Wigan (yet)

Lou Morgan (@LouMorgan): I hung onto the baby names book I bought when I was pregnant!

Jesselle Villegas (@Villegas): I browse school yearbooks for names. 🙂

Judith Heneghan (@JudithHeneghan): I borrow them from librarians – they always have interesting names and they wear handy name badges…

Kim Curran (@KimeCurran): I steal them off gravestones and dedications on park benches.

Non Pratt (@catnipbooks): check top names lists for the year my character was born relative to the one I imagine I’ll finish writing the book.

Mark Thornton (@mostlybooksmark): Think of first names and last names from your favourite books, then mash up first names and surnames…

 Cethan Leahy (@CethanLeahy): I usually steal the first name from books and films I like.

James Dawson (@_jamesdawson): Best tip I heard was names of British monarchs or their spouses – they never date.

Laure Eve (@LaureEve): Tend to use something that shouldn’t be a name as a name, i.e. objects, colours, feelings, places. Or I homage.

John Fulton (@johnkfulton): If you use Scrivener, it has a built-in character name generator.

Any other tips we should add to the list? Write them below in the comments!

6 responses to “Advice from YOU: Character Names

  1. Great tips! I think James’s British monarch idea is my favourite. Yearbooks are good too. Clever people!

  2. I do the gravestone thing sometimes too – but mainly I’ve forgotten the good ones by the time I get to writing, so they come out as a mangled half-forgotten version. Which kind of makes them original. That’s mt story and Ilm sticking to it. Mainly though for me it will be a real word that seems to hang around in my mind when I’m thinking about the character (i.e. Clamdigger, Cloudier Peele) or just a name I love the sound of (Rasmussen, Meredith Anstruther). But then, as I’m writing about a very silly world, I don’t have to keep it real…

  3. I start with the meaning that I want to convey (even though its very likely that nobody but me will know the meaning behind it). I then decide what information I want my reader to gather simply by reading the name. Do I want to have a brave male character, who everyone initially underestimates? I might name him Maynard (brave strength) or Bernard (bear brave). If I want him to seem brave and bold from the start, I might name him Jerrod (brave spearman). If my story will have influences from mythology, I might name him Tyr, after the Norse god.

    In general, I avoid naming characters after people I know, who could potentially read my work. But… that’s more of a safety for me, just in case Jessica doesn’t appreciate the rendering of my fictional Jessica. 🙂

    I have a hard time choosing names just because I like them, but it does happen. I do sometimes take inspiration from past fiction (my Mrs. Finch was named for the Finches of To Kill a Mockingbird, and my Miss Crawford was named for the character from Mansfield Park), especially in regards to what kind of person they are. I know people already identify Finch with a good feeling, and that’s how I wanted them to feel about my character.

    Sorry for being long-winded… I love this topic!

    • Very cool! It is always tricky with names of people you know. But I confess I have slipped in names of people who “done me wrong” in my youth as villains or particularly hideous monsters (in my previous life creating content at Working Partners). Sweet (but ineffectual) revenge.

  4. Actually as a weird mutation of what I said, I used Camilla for Moor as I was misremembered the main character’s name from a story that would be a vaguely clever reference. I would have changed it but I liked the new name better!

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