How to Choose Names for Characters

In any story, a character’s name is one of the most important decisions an author will make. After all, it’s their name that readers will associate with the book for years to come. The best names are ones that fit in seamlessly with the text and have a meaningful origin or etymology. Here are some tips on how to choose a good name for your character!

12 Tips for Choosing Good Names for Characters

Remember that you’re the author

Sometimes, a good parent will name their child something they know is unique, but as an author, this isn’t always what you want to do. The worst thing you can do is forget about your character’s name and not use it again in the story. This often leads to confusion for readers who may not remember or recognize the character when they come back later on and disrupts the flow of your writing if you have to stop and say “Oh wait, I forgot to tell you her name.”

Make sure it sounds realistic

It might be surprising for some people, but names don’t just happen overnight — at least not real ones! You wouldn’t expect someone named John Smith (despite how popular this name is) to exist in real life. Even if it’s a fictional world, you have to obey the same rules as our world or else people won’t believe your story.

Don’t be afraid of names with negative meanings

It might seem like a good idea to avoid picking bad names for characters, but sometimes these can become iconic! A good example of this is Darth Vader from Star Wars who was originally supposed to be named Luke Starkiller. Despite its dark meaning (“the destroyer”), readers fell in love with the Sith Lord whose goal was always redemption despite his evil actions.

Be careful not to copy another character

Too much similarity between two names can make it difficult for readers figure out which character you are talking about. This can be fixed by changing how the name is said or spelled, but this might not always work out depending on where you are in the text.

Names have nuances just like people

Names that sound or look similar might have symbolic connections between them. For example, all of the following names mean “king” in different languages: Magnus Maximus Macbeth Mackenzie Mathew Matheson Matthew Maddox

Use the character’s occupation to inform their name

This tip basically means to pick a profession for your character and use it as inspiration for their first name! If you’re writing about a child who wants to become an astronaut, then Gus Armstrong would probably make sense as a good choice of protagonist name.

Avoid names that are difficult to spell or say

Names like “Agnes” and “Reuben” may seem nice, but can be hard for readers to recognize when you have written them out so many times in the text. If possible, try to pick a name that’s either easy to read or pronounce.

Double check your spelling!

This might be obvious, but it’s always good practice for authors to double-check their work before they submit it or publish it on the Internet where people will be able to comment on anything they notice!

One type of mistake that is often made is typing something incorrect just because of simple transposition errors (i.e., typing m instead of n). Try to avoid this mistake.

Avoid tired cliches

Nowadays, there are many commonly used names that everyone will recognize and associate with certain tropes in fiction such as princesses or elves. The best way to avoid this is to use your imagination and find unique names that fit your character! If you’re having trouble finding something good, try using a baby name generator.

Keep it short!

If possible, try to pick a name for your female protagonist (or secondary/minor male characters) that is six letters or less if at all possible! Most people can’t remember names longer than this and they don’t look good on the page either because then you have to break into two lines whenever you mention them again.

Try to avoid stereotypes

Some of these may seem obvious, but they are still worth mentioning! For example, try not to pick names that are associated with a specific culture if you are not writing about that culture.

For example, it would be pretty weird for an American author to pick the name “Sanjay” for their protagonist when all they know about that culture is from their own perspective.

Try to avoid clichés

This tip can probably be applied to many things in fiction, but it’s especially relevant when picking names because these are the first thing readers will notice. It would be weird if you had a protagonist named Jane Smith and yet she acted nothing like the “typical” Jane Smith that people would expect to find in other stories.

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