Choosing Character Names

One of the more difficult aspects of writing fiction is choosing character names.  It’s easy to choose a common name.  It’s difficult to choose a good name.

I recently chose the first name of the protagonist of Ariadne: Origins Book 1, and I like it.  I didn’t want something common, so I did some searching for names based on the meaning.  I found one I liked, and it turns out it’s a Greek name.  Sometimes I look for meaning in main characters’ names, but not always.

When it comes to fantasy, it’s quite likely you may want to make up something completely original.  Or you may choose a more classic name that was used long ago.

How do you choose character names?

16 thoughts on “Choosing Character Names”

  1. I keep a list of names I’ve gathered from all over the place. Sometimes I do research into meanings. Usually, I just pick something very unoriginal and use it.

  2. My story deals with genetics and DNA sort of. As in a colony wants to expand their gene pool in order to prevent inbreeding. So I’m creating a genealogy for my Martian colony. It consists of 50 families that have been there for four generations. Each couple has three children. So right now I’m just using the most common names list on Behind the name for first names and last names. The American list.

    Later on, if I don’t like the name then I will change it then. Right now, I have a character who changes his name to Edgar Tarkas after arriving on Mars because he believes it sounds more manly than his actual name. So when I’m done with the genealogy I’m going to pick a guy and just change the name to Edgar Tarkas.

    1. Interesting idea. Doing the genealogy must take quite some time. I’ll have some genealogy work to do, too, but I’m not sure how extensive it’ll be.

  3. I actually have an awesome character naming source book that I use. The names are divided by origin, then alphabetized with meanings. I usually pick an origin then comb thru for names or meanings that stand out to me. I know, I’m a little OCD. 🙂

  4. Most of my characters’ names just came about while I was writing the early drafts of the first book waaaaaay back when I was a teenager. Which made some of them quite silly, so as I grew into the story, I changed a lot of them to be less Darkfire McKickass. Sometimes that meant reverse-engineering a made-up language so that they still meant the same thing but in an obscured manner, or adding/changing/subtracting a few letters so they sounded less like Wookies.

    But for non-central characters, I developed naming conventions based on a new character’s place of origin, with kingdom-specific prefixes and suffixes and letter-preferences, so that I can throw names together with a few guidelines and have all those from the same area have a common thread — without being carbon copy repeats of each other. And sometimes I’ll throw together a name on the fly, then check my naming conventions and realize it uses pieces from two different places, and suddenly the character has a backstory: their parents were from two different kingdoms! Now how did that happen? Was someone an immigrant, or are they borderlanders, or or or…

    Anything can provide character-building.

    1. Good to have a system in place. I know what it’s like to have a name that sounds odd. My entire world of Ariadne had a different name several years ago. Now I find it sounds incredibly strange, so I changed it to follow international standards for naming planets.

  5. I am *such* a character name snob. My own characters go through metamorphoses of their names for extended periods of time, and so when I read a book with names like “James” and “Wendy,” I go insane. Names are *so* important to me. I do not like the conventional ones. Whether the book itself is a contemporary or whatever doesn’t matter – I’ll instantly like a book with regular names less than ones with eye-catching ones.

    But not too eye-catching. No need to be too Kre’at-yve. (If you catch my drift.)

    For my own names, I start with meaning and then vary it from there. I used to keep an extensive list of names I’d heard or seen in passing and when I needed a character name pluck one from the list, but since the amount of stories I’d write at once has significantly decreased, I no longer see a point in keeping those lists.

    1. Creative forms of contemporary names sound so pretentious. I’m using mainly regular contemporary names for Journey to Ariadne, but later books will be more original. Languages and names shift, so I’ll create new names as time goes on.

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