Thursday, August 13, 2015

How To Name A Character

Okay, so you've got a brilliant story idea, one that's humming through your veins, making it all but impossible to do anything but sit down and write.

But when you do sit down your fingers freeze, because you've already hit a roadblock.


Their names! What are your characters names? 

See, naming a character's not as easy as it looks.There are rules which are worth taking a look at, even if you don't follow them. This Writer's Digest article by Elizabeth Sims suggests some really practical things, like looking at the name's root meanings, considering your time period, and saying your possibilities out loud to make sure the name doesn't turn into a tonguetwister on the audiobook version.

Coming up with the right name for a character is key. Would Severus Snape have been as threatening if his name had been Douglas Darby? I came up with Douglas using a random name generator, and it works pretty well for this example. The two names are similar in that both use alliteration, which is another recommendation in the Writer's Digest article. The repetition of the first letter draws attention to the name, marking the character as someone special.

That's about all these two names have in common. The first name "Severus" is unusual and a little bit odd, however it's not hard to think of men named "Douglas" (MacArthur, Fairbanks, Booth).

(If you're old - like me - google Douglas Booth. Even better, just click HERE. Because pretty.)

And really, which last name sounds scarier, Snape or Darby? If I was playing a word association game, I'd probably equate Snape with snake, and Darby with Mr. Darcy.

Creepy reptile or Colin Firth in a wet linen shirt. I'll let you decide.

I could probably do a whole blog post analyzing ways the name Severus Snape is frightening. As such, it's a fantastic example of how the right name can boost the character. Really, though, the point of this exercise is to look at resources so you can come up with your own Severus Snape.

For example, here's a post with 100 Sexy Names for Contemporary Romance Hereoes. Author Bryn Donovan has created a comprehensive list, and while I don't agree with all of her choices (Clive is just never going to sound sexy to me) it's a good place to start.

I also found several random name generators for writers. THIS ONE will also come up with character profiles, first lines, and all kinds of other writing jump-starts.

THIS ONE lets you choose the character's sex, ethnicity, and the year they were born, and will give you a name plus a whole profile. Pretty interesting stuff.

Finally, THIS ONE just lets you choose male or female, but prefaces it's tool with some good advice (go interesting but not too weird), AND it's the one that came up with Douglas Darby. Clearly they know what they're doing.

There's quite a bit of information about how to choose your characters' names. has a great article, and I liked this one by Devyani Borade, also on the Writer's Digest website. If you're writing a historical, the Social Security website has lists of the 100 most popular names by decade, going back to the 1880s.

I'm just skimming the surface here, but finding the right name can make a huge difference to your character, and there are tons of resources to help you do that. In the end, I hope you type in a name that makes you say...


If you've got a secret strategy for naming your characters, feel free to leave us some tips in the comments. And if not, feel free to play with the random name generators and leave us your favorites.


  1. I've never used a random name generator. I'm excited to try, now! Great post. Lots of fantastic info and links!
    In gratitude,
    Marissa xo

    1. They're kind of fun, Marissa. I haven't used them for an actual writing project, but I think I might.

  2. Glad my article sparked your interest, Liv! Thanks for sharing with your followers.