Let’s be honest…we’ve all been there.
Whether it’s being stuck on a character creation screen or agonizing over what your new book hero is going to be called, naming a character is one of the hardest things about creation. Do you go for something simple, or elaborate? What if the name you want doesn’t sound right or no one likes it? Just how many baby naming websites do you have to look up before you know you’ve found the perfect name?
Naming characters is hard, but it doesn’t have to stress you out. If you ever find yourself in a naming pickle, try some of these strategies to see if it makes things easier:
- Match your character’s name with his/her personality. When I was looking to name my main character, Edward, from The Ripple Affair, I sought out a name that would reflect the type of person he was. Edward is a guardian of the people he cares about, doing anything for them, and the meaning of his name (guardian or protector) fits that.
- Match your character’s name to his/her destiny or surroundings. Jacob Ichabod in The Ripple Affair is a knight destined to be ignored for his talents by the monarchy, which leads him to eventually betray his king. The meaning of his surname is “no glory”, and this reflects the struggles he’s going to have in the story.
- Match your character’s name to his/her culture or background. When developing the Recu people in The Ripple Affair, I knew I wanted their culture to be based on a Slavic naming system, so their names (such as Bohden, or Bohdan, as the original spelling is) reflects that.
- Match your character’s name to his/her time period. The 18th century popularized character traits and virtues for girls’ names. Being a woman of 18th century America, Charity from Captain Patty and the Boston Buccaneer needed to have a name that reflected the time period she was a part of.
- Go with your gut. Sometimes a character name just pops in your head and you know it’s the right fit. It might happen quickly or it might happen years down the road. When I was working on Captain Patty and the Nameless Navigator, I had no idea that Bateau was going to be a character until around 7 years after beginning the story. Before then, he didn’t exist. When I decided to add him, I had no clue what his name was, but in the back of my mind, the word “Bateau” kept repeating itself, like it sounded right. Keep in mind I spoke hardly any French at the time. After a few weeks, I decided to look up what Bateau meant. Sure enough, after looking up the meaning, I knew it was the right pick.
Whether you’re creating a game character or writing a story, naming a character can be tricky! What are some ways you come up with character names?