- Writing Techniques
- Character Development
- Fiction Plots & Pacing
- Writing Genre Fiction
- Writing Novels
- Writing Poetry
- Writing Short Stories
Tip 1: Make the name age-appropriate
The biggest mistake we see writers make is choosing a character name that is not age-appropriate. Many authors make the mistake of choosing a name that is popular now for an adult character—name that would have rarely been used around the time of the character's birth. Decide the age of your character and then calculate the year your character was born. If your character was born in the U.S., browse the Social Security Name Popularity List for that year. You will also want to take into account the character's ethnic background and the ethnic background of his/her parents.
Tip 2: Choose a name by meaning
Many writers give their characters names that have significance in the story. It could reflect major personality traits, or the character's role in the story. You may want to use our advanced search to search by literal meaning, or think of ways to
incorporate other meanings into your character's name. For example, if your character is a botanist, you may not want to name her Flower (too literal), but you may want to consider the names Linnea or Sage. Even if you choose not to name a character by meaning, you should look up the meaning of all your characters' names—there may be something that inspires you or, on the other hand, conflicts with your message.
Tip 3: Exotic names are for romance novels, soap operas and strippers
Romance novels and soap operas and strippers all have one thing in common—they evoke a fantasy of romance and/or sex. Characters in these genres tend to have names that are more exotic, like Chesapeake Divine or Rod Remington. If you are not writing a romance or soap opera, however, this kind of name can sound silly and out of place.
Tip 4: Science fiction names don't have to sound alien
It's difficult to predict what names will be popular in the year 3000, however you don't have to make your science fiction characters sound like they are from Mars (unless they are). When a person reads (or watches) your story, you don't want them to stumble over a name. The name Zyxnrid, for example, would be difficult to read or listen to every time the character is referenced—and may detract from your overall story. If you do choose to create your sci-fi name, you may want to:
- Combine two common names to make a less common, but pronounceable name. Example: Donica (Donna and Veronica).
- Use ancient mythological names, or combine two of them. Example: Ceres or Evadne.
- Make it easy to pronounce and spell. Example: Bilbo Baggins from Lord of the Rings.
Tip 5: Terms of Endearment
When writing your story, be aware that people who are close rarely use each other's full names. Couples will use nicknames, terms of endearment (honey, dear, boo). What nickname have your characters come up with for each other? Also, parents rarely call their children by their full names--unless they are admonishing them for bad behavior or testifying in court. If you have loving parent characters that are addressing their kids, use a nick name or term of endearment (sweetie, baby, D.J.). An exception to this would be if you want to show the parent character being cold and distant to their child.
Tip 6: Overused Names
For some reason, every writer loves to name his hero JACK. I know it's a tough-sounding, honest-working name, but naming your hero Jack is like naming your son AIDAN. It's overdone. Be a little more creative, so your reader will remember your particular protagonist as opposed to the umpteen-million other books they've read about Jack. Also, do not give your protagonist the initials J.C. as an alliteration to Jesus Christ. That tactic was overused in 60's/70's fiction and is almost laughable by today's standards.
Tip 7: Loaded Names
Watch out for what we call "loaded" names--names that have a popular association. These could be names associated with celebrities, historical or infamous people like Adolf, Oprah, or Kobe. They could also be names of famous literary, tv, or movie characters: Hannibal, Scarlett, Romeo, Bart. If you do choose to use "loaded" names, then you really should make it part of the story, part of the character. Your character's mother was obsessed with Gone With the Wind, so she was named Scarlett--how has it affected her throughout her life? How does it affect her in the story?
Tip 8: Have Fun With Names
Have fun with naming your characters and take time to see what "fits." What was your character's childhood nickname? Is that an embarrassment when his parents address him in front of his friends? Did your character change his name at any point in his/her life? If so, why? Does your female character want to change her surname when she gets married? Why or why not? Names are such an important part of one's identity, don't take it lightly with your story!