Hello, Writers! Do you struggle choosing character names, or is it a breeze for you? A lot of times, a character’s name will pop in my mind out of nowhere.
But for the times when I’m stuck or unsure, this is what I do:
3 Ways to Choose Character Names
1. Popular baby names for that year
This advice is most important for historical fiction, but it applies to other genres as well. I usually write contemporary. To pick the character’s name, I simply look for the most popular or famous baby names of today. If your story is set in the past, you can check out popular baby names for that year.
You can give your cool character a popular name… or a nerdy, shy character an old name that embarrasses her.
Name can match a character so well. A sexy name for paranormal romance, a badass name for a post-apocalyptic work, a sweet name for a cozy romance… You can also get creative with names in a futuristic, sci fi, or dystopian work. Search through baby name directories (resources below) and mix, match, change letters, and see what you come up with!
2. Base last name on ethnicity/origins/family history
A last name can say a lot about a character. Think of the differences between Garcia and O’Hara. Silva and Chernyshevsky. Smith and Seon-kyul. Last names can be used to hint at where a character is from.
Readers will automatically make assumptions based on last name.
You can use those assumptions for direction–the character is from South Korea. Or you can use those assumptions for misdirection–the character is adopted. To me, last names are never random or arbitrary. They simply say too much.
3. Make them visually different please!
I recently read a really good book that had a Carlos and a Carles, and darn it… I kept confusing the two! It was so easy for my eyes to scan over the names and not catch who was which 😦
Try different first letters, or names that look quite different. It’s only for the sake of ease of reading.
If you must have a Hannah, Henna, Helen, and Helena, go right on ahead, I guess. But to make things easier for your reader (and to keep your story nice and clear), I suggest trying out names that are a bit more different.
How do you find names for your characters?
Share in the comments! 🙂
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Resources for baby names: