Alyssandro, Jeezera, Pepper—these names and about 200 more can be found in a floral notebook I keep on by bedside table, a collection of names I’ve worked on since I was in college. At first glance, it may seem like a list of potential baby names, but in actuality it’s my character name book— something I refer to when I start a new piece and need to give my main character an identity. Some of these names belong to people I’ve met in real life, some were given to starlets, and some appear to me in dreams. Whatever the case, if I like a name, it goes in the book.
Establishing names for your characters can sometimes be the hardest part of the creative process; after all, the name needs to not only “fit” your character’s personality but there are other factors that must also be considered too, like geographical relevance, spelling, time period and age appropriateness. And since character names influence your reader’s first response to them, it’s important that you pick the “right” name. While keeping a character name book like I do can make the process easier, there are other outlets you can turn to get some inspiration and come up with an appropriate list of character names too. That said, no matter if you’re crafting a novel for your advanced creative writing program, or writing a novella or short story for fun, continue reading below to help gear you in the right direction.
Most people use the online version, but scouring names in a traditional phone book can really help get the creative juices flowing. No matter if trying to pick a first name or last name, the phone book can really help. If you more or less know what you want the name to start with, then go about it that way and look under P’s or M’s. Or, you can be adventurous and open random pages—you may just get lucky.
Resorting to baby books can also be helpful. Not only do they help you come up with ideal names but they also share their meaning, so you can see if it really fits your character’s personality or not. There are plenty of baby name books that are accessible for free at your local library or for cheap at the local discount book store. There are also online resources you can use, like the Social Security Administration website. Here, you will be able to find the most popular baby names of the current year, or even search them by decade or territories if trying to create a historical piece.
Another easy way to come up with appropriate character names is to simply stick around after a movie and check out the credits. There is a colorful and diverse group of people who work in the movie-making industry and you will most certainly come across a few gems if you pay enough attention.
TV Shows/ Soap Operas
Lastly, some writers are also inspired when watching TV shows or soap operas—and who’s to blame them? Some of the names are really creative and original, but be careful if you go this route, especially if the name is already too popular. You don’t want your audience to associate your character with the conniving woman from General Hospital. On the same note, stay clear from “loaded” names—those that when said can only be associated with one person like Oprah, Madonna, or Cher—unless it’s part of the story. Maybe your character’s mother was obsessed with watching Oprah.
Like mentioned before, these are only a few ways that you can come up with some character names for your story. It might take some time, but keep an open eye and you should be able to find a fitting name in no time.
Thanks Barbara! If you would like to know more about this week’s guest blogger, please go to her website at www.onlineclasses.org. Barbara enjoys writing about online college classes and other trends in the academic world. Even when she’s not blogging, she is always contemplating and considering issues concerning education and modern society. Barbara is from Texas and has completed her BA from Ashford University. If you’re interested in any of her work or want to check out her classes, you can reach her at barbara.jolie876[at]gmail[dot]com.