Naming Fictional Characters

Some people put a lot of importance on character names. I’ve even heard people say they’ll put a book down if they don’t like the names in it.

I, for one, do not feel this way. Being incapable of pronouncing a name doesn’t much deter me. I figure out how I think it’s said, and that’s how I read it from then on.

People truly despise my novel’s protagonist’s name, which is Amyas. They find it utterly impossible to believe that this name can be for a male, and despite the hints I’ve thrown, he still gets called a female from time to time. Fortunately, everyone who has critiqued my current version seems to know he’s a man.

But the thing is, once I’ve named a character, I can’t just up and change it. Amyas is Amyas, however abominable people may find his name. It’s part of who he is.

Here are a few more of my opinions in regard to character names:

1. The name does not have to suit the character’s personality or appearance.

Does your name suit your personality? Unless you’ve had it changed, your parents gave it to you when you were born –before you even had a personality. Naming a character for their eye or hair color is a little absurd, too, since these things often change from infancy to childhood. But, when it comes to nicknames, you’re free to base it as much as you like on these things.

2. The name should match the time period.

Your Victorian character should not be named Ebony Skies. She should be named Ingrid Pippington.

3. Names should be relatively simple to pronounce by reading phonetically, and if they aren’t, throw us a hint.

For example: Aoife is pronounced “Eefah,” as much as I read it “Ah-oiff” whenever I see it. Another character could butcher the pronunciation upon reading it, and be corrected. Or, they could simply repeat it slowly after learning the name.

4. If the name is long, pick one that can easily be turned into a nickname.

Schwangau (German surname) does not make for an easy nickname. Zellweger (another German surname), on the other hand, has an easy placement of consonants and vowels at the beginning, so you could use Zell.

Behind the Name is an excellent resource for naming characters. It has first names, last names, and user submitted names.

7 thoughts on “Naming Fictional Characters

  1. Personally, i find ‘deep meaning’ in names to be…. somewhat pretentious – not to insult anyone who does this, I just personally dislike the practice unless you have a really, really good reason. The only important aspects for me are relevance: Irish ppl have Irish last names etc., your name is appropriate for the setting – you dont put a Paul Fletcher into The Lord of the Rings xD.

    I also get attetched to names; if I’m changing a name, I’m revamping the character. They are not the same people. I did this in my first book actually, which started as a fanfic; in order to turn into into my own original story, i had to rename Stephan to… I believe he’s on his third name now, Sebastian xD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s scary how much I relate to this comment!

      Names should feel natural in the setting, of course, but just because a person is dark and mysterious does not mean their name needs to be “Raven.”

      I also agree with the second point –if I change my character’s name, it feels like I am starting with a brand new character.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve always struggled with naming characters (or naming anything, like titles), so when I do find an appropriate name it feels kind of overwhelming because THAT is their name. Though I still have those days where they’re just not working for me, and I’ll have to come back to them later. Usually after I’ve written the story, the character names come along much easier.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is a good point. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting to know a character so you can find a name that “suits” them. A character with a name that doesn’t resemble them at all could be as bad as a character named too “perfectly.” After all, a person with black hair whose name is Red might seem weird, or a person with a name like “Bruno” who is small and scrawny. (Though that could end up being a pretty fun character!)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much for this advice. I struggle so much and get bogged down with naming characters. now i feel like just picking names out of hats and you are what you are. lol Im stuck with my name, character, you are not stuck with yours!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a lot of trouble coming up with names, too! It’d would be nice to be able to settle for the first one I see, but I can’t seem to do that. Still, it’s fun to use random name generators online and see what you get!

      Like

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