Character names – decisions, decisions! #amwriting

Being indecisive?

Am I the only writer who is indecisive when it comes to my character names?

I don’t have any children, and yet I firmly believe naming a child would be far easier than naming a character in a book! Let’s face it you know exactly who you want your child to be when they grow up and a name is a massive part of this. But when you are naming a character in a book you experience so many conflicts of interest and dilemmas that its enough to make your head spin.

Finding a name at all…2015-02-18 15.06.54

How many writers have a link to the latest top baby names website in their quick links/ favourites?

Ok, enough said.

More irony anyone?

Do you pick a name that suits your character’s personality, for example do you give your evil villain a gritty, villainesk name? Or do you choose the ironic option say something ‘fluffy’? Or even something normal?

Growing into our names…

Do you ever get the feeling that your characters grow into their names, or do they fight against it? While the real world has numerous examples of how your name can influence everything from job opportunities and salary to your likelihood of falling into a life of crime, it also has plenty of conflicts. For example the man who named his two sons ‘winner’ and ‘loser’ (let’s not get into a debate on why). Winner went on to be a criminal and loser went on to be a cop!

As a writer though, do we find ourselves attributing a personality and looks to our character simply based on their name?

I know as a reader I do, so I can’t help but think that subconsciously when I am writing I do the same.

Yeah, I still can’t decide…

I have been writing my current book for nearly ten years off and on. It is ready for publishing and has been through numerous rounds of editing, and I still find myself questioning the names! Ok, it’s not the main characters anymore, but I just can’t help giving some of the minor players a little tweak 🙂


For more cartoons by Tom Gauld…

Divided Serenity is out now on all Amazon stores, and free with Kindle Unlimited.

Divided Serenity Book Cover

57 thoughts on “Character names – decisions, decisions! #amwriting

  1. Yup, I have a name generator, two of them, in my bookmarks. But strange how many names end up being perfect for the character I assigned them to… so like you say, the character grows into them. I have had one instance where a name just didn’t work. I started to hate it. So I changed it. Find / replace function. Blissto, suddenly my world is a better place. Nice article. :O)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I have found that some of my characters tell me their names right away and some take a while. So I start with a bunch of names like LITTLEBROTHER and FCopilot1 at the beginning of the book. Later in the book I start using their names. When I finish the first draft, I do a search and replace on their early names. I fine tune it in editing, sometimes using first name, last name, full name, name and rank, or nickname.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Like DJ, some characters announce their names right away, and with others it comes a little later, but I can’t start writing the scenes until I have the names.

    And I can’t change the names once they’re set. I had two characters once named Sarah and SarahBeth, and by the inexorable logic of the story they were going to end up lovers. But it was too late (and there are couples in the real world who have similar names, after all).

    For characters who use the names they were born with, I try to imagine the names their parents would have picked (very religious parents might pick Biblical names, for example). For characters who make up their own names, then I try to figure that out the same way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s an interesting take thinking what their parents may call them. I generally find a name before I start, but definitely trying the DJ technique of leaving some as unknowns if they don’t pop in next time 😉 do your two main character make reference to their similar names in the book?


      1. In my first novel, SarahBeth is traveling under an assumed name, and Sarah (and the readers) just know her as “Nicky.”

        In a later story, they hook up again (briefly and mostly offstage), and for various reasons Sarah continues to call her “Nicky” even after she learns the truth.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I know exactly what you mean! Your cartoons are hilarious! So true. I think I’ve renamed my main characters at least three times already. It’s driving me crazy.
    Having kids–not having kids–doesn’t seem to matter. I gave my children my favorite names so I blame being stuck on that.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. OMG I hate having to name characters!!
    I think it’s WAY harder than to name your kids, after all, the number of kids a person has is WAY less than the number of characters a writer has to name!
    My other problem is that most of my stories start based on real people, so I use those names while I’m writing and then if I want to share some of their story I totally made up on my blog, I have to come up with new names…
    We own a couple of baby names books and then there’s baby names generators online. I have a list of the names we’ve used so far so we don’t double up. And there’s so many names we can’t use because they remind us of people we love or hate…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It does get very messy 🙂 Good point about the names to avoid! Sometimes you would love to use a name but it’s just too tightly connected to a real person. I do jot down names of people I casually interact with if I like them, I consider them fair game 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s interesting, does it make it easier or harder? Sometimes I like the sound of a name and then look it up only to find it means something totally different to my character journey. I’ve used online resources though. Would you recommend your books?


      1. Hello, Georgina.

        Genre, gender, writing style, end-goal, and author preference are among the things that influence character name selection. Easier or harder really depends on the name and what I’m writing. I have modified names to make them suit the character or the project. There are limits, though. If, for example, the work is historical fiction, names should match the era in which the story takes place.

        Author Sherilyn Kenyon’s “Character Naming Sourcebook” First and Second editions from Writer’s Digest are both in my library and I use them often. I do recommend them because they work for me. I have also used online sources as well as names from people in my life.

        Any source that gives insight and inspiration for names is valuable. –Jack

        Liked by 1 person

  6. So true, naming characters can be so frustrating and changing their names round can become weirdly addictive!

    To name my characters I trawl through by writing a key characteristic into the ‘meanings’ search box and finding a name that means the same….although sometimes you end up having a totally obscure name that doesn’t fit into the context of your book…but a good way to procrastinate when writer’s block strikes.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I am a tad obsessive when it comes to the names of my main characters. I do all sorts of research on the meaning of the name etc only to realize the name I picked out is the same as a cousin, neighbor, etc, who happens to be a person I don’t want to think is the base of the character. Then it is back to the baby book.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I found that when I got to the editing stage some of names just didn’t work so I ended up renaming several including the main protagonist.
    Names are hard!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. If it is a name for a main character, I try to make sure the meaning behind the name matches up to what I have in store for the character. If it is a lesser character, I’ll occasionally use the random name generator. Unfortunately, not all lesser characters are kind enough to stay that way. I’ve had a few grow to be complete scene stealers and fan favorites and the name stuck.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I have a list of names I’ve collected for easy perusal when I need to name a character. 🙂 I go through each name one by one until something feels right. I pick names that suit the person because they help build a feel for the character, but that doesn’t mean I go for a strict matchy-matchy kind of name. Like, my villain doesn’t have to be named DAMIEN or something obvious like that, haha, but I also don’t want a name to pull someone out of the story because it seems so wrong, you know?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I felt that way with the name of my current WIP’s main character. I had a perfect name for her, but then changed it because a very popular book with similar subject matter came out in which the MC had the same name. Dang it! So her name changed around a couple times because no other name felt as right, but now I feel more settled with my choice.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. First off, nice blog!

    I, too, have a couple of websites bookmarked for names. In general, I don’t give much thought to my character’s name, unless I need a name to be consistent with a specific nationality. I wouldn’t name someone from Ireland “Yuri.”

    In one case, I had a last name pop into my head that I formed a story around.

    Other than that….

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Naming characters is such an important part of the character development process, and I’m totally guilty of changing characters names over time. Sometimes they just need it because the name doesn’t fit.

    I have a baby name book I bought back in middle school since the Internet wasn’t what it is now. Now, I have some favorite sites, including a random name generator that sometimes comes up with ingenious combinations. (Finnegan Kallikrate is one of my favorites.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great combo! I’ve dabbled on the name generators, but tend to take normal names and tweak them a bit. Thankfully I don’t need a lot of unusual name. Do like that one, might have to go back and give them another try 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I try not to make my names too ordinary, but unfortunately I write quite a lot of historical fiction when everyone was quite literally called Tom Dick or Harry…
    I try to make them suit the character but then sometimes I’m forced to change their name after a couple of years of writing, which gets very confusing! At least I don’t have any toddlers…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah every genre have its naming issues. Must be okay if you only have one historical fiction book, but what is you have ten? Do you run out of names! Do you get muddled between Tom in book 2 and Tom in book 8? 🙂 always thought fantasy fiction had the hard job with all those unpronounceable names, but maybe historical fiction has its share of problems too 🙂


  14. You’re definitely not the only writer that finds it difficult to name characters. I don’t have any children either but whenever I do, I feel it’ll be so much easier to name the child vs my characters

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I’m one of those people who are always coming up with new characters for stories and they all have names. I even make sure all my game characters, such as World of Warcraft or any other RPG, have realistic names that match the world they’re in.

    Then again, I have habits of using the same names for major characters across multiple universes as well… so maybe I’m not as good at thinking new names as I like to think.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do the same with favorite character names! I just want to use the same one everywhere:) I have lost many an hour of my life on world of Warcraft too 😉 pretty sure I would never have finished writing my book if I hadn’t finally deleted it!

      Liked by 1 person

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