One of the most important decisions you’ll make as a storyteller is the names if your characters. If the names don’t ring right with readers, it can wear on them despite that the rest of your story is exceptional. Consider that the primary male character in a romance novel typically has a very strong, masculine name, so Lucas and Griffin work as Alpha male names but Sheldon doesn’t. In science fiction’s “Star Trek,” several names were considered for the commander of the starship, the series’ lead, before “James T. Kirk” emerged as the best one.
So how do you come up with a character’s name? It’s a matter of searching for and playing with names until you land on the right-sounding one.
Here are some different techniques that clients I’ve worked with have used for coming up with character names:
• Anagram maker (works well for fantasy book)
• Ancient names (modernize them)
• Atlas (look up names of exotic foreign cities and towns, then alter the vowels and consonants; for example Nepal could become Palen or Palne)
• Baby name website/book
• Census records (works well for historical fiction)
• Dead languages (find a word in that language that describes your character; works well in science fiction or fantasy books)
• Google translate (put in a word that describes your character and then find the equivalent of it in a foreign language)
• History books (works well for historical fiction)
• Phone books
• Puns (works well for humor stories)
• Symbolic association (a good example is Luke Skywalker; this is like leaving a cookie for the reader)
If you write a lot and plan to publish a number of stories and novels, be sure to keep a name list. Each time you stumble across a great potential name, add it to the list. And while names aren’t interchangeable between characters, the discarded names from the today’s story might by the perfect name for tomorrow’s tale.
My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.