How do you name your character?

800px-Mrs._Herbert_Stevens_May_2008A character by any other name would… not be the same character, right? Naming our characters is an important aspect. Once we assign a name and start thinking of the character as that name, changing it involves also risking character traits. Is an Amanda the same as a Rachel? (Listen closely to every Amanda and every Rachel ever soundly shout ‘NO’!)

Changing a character’s name half-way through could end up changing the entire direction of the story. It could. Not saying it will. But why take that risk (unless you really, really hate your story and wouldn’t mind a change in direction anyway)?

So what’s your process when you name a character? Do you…

A) Use something symbolic, a subtle clue into the background of the character or what your character is like?

B) Search for a name that fits the time period and culture of your story?

C) Name your character something you found striking and leave it at that?

D) Allow their character to name themselves (e.g. you don’t even have a name for them yet until it begins to organically become apparent that you have been thinking of them in terms of this one particular name)?

What’s your process? I tend to do all four. My MC for Order of the Blood (book plug, oh, yeah!) was John. He just was. I didn’t choose his, at least not consciously. Perhaps it was John because I identify the name as a popular one for the era and the place. I don’t know. But he was John.

Grissom is his last name. Grissom was meant to resemble gruesome, because he’s dealing with something gruesome. And the ‘GR’ letter combination seems to be less elegant than other combinations. It recalls a lot of words that aren’t pretty: gritty, grim, gray, grief, grime, growl, groan, greedy, gross. Sure, there’s a lot of positives too: grass, grin, grape, grew. But for me personally, I identify the sound with something rough, dark, and less than ideal.

Nevertheless, learn from me. Google your name before you finalize it. If your pc keeps trying to take you to a different person that happens to be a famous novelist, (cough, cough, John Grisham, cough, cough), pass on it. For my poor hero, it’s too late. It’s a done deal. He’s John Grissom and there’s no getting around it.

If you’re getting desperate and nothing’s popping out to you, try a name generator. It’s not super deep, but it’s fun and it might prompt you in your search for a name you love.

There are name generators online for various name types, just plug in according to their specifications and wa-la! You have a name. Don’t like it? Try again.

General names: Behind the Name Generator

Regency era names: Stuff and Nonsense Name Generator

Victorian and Steampunk names:

Fantasy names:

Scifi names:

This article from Writer’s Digest guest poster and best-selling author Elizabeth Sims provides some basic tips and, yes, rules, on naming your characters. Tell me, do you have a naming process? What is it?

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