How to Create Effective Character Names

Names are an important part of all good characters. Names can be brave, funny, or menacing, and are an essential part of character creation. Personally, I always need a name for my characters before I can flesh them out, and that’s why today’s post will provide guidelines for crafting memorable, powerful and effective character names.

Consider Character Traits:

Is your character a tad meek, and maybe a little hopeless? If so, name them Neville Longbottom!

Is your character a tough, competant, I’ll-do-it-alone kinda guy? If so, call them Han Solo!

A character’s name is a reader’s first experience of that character. Thus, it makes sense to use names to reflect a character’s personality.

Avoid Obscure References:

Some writers give characters obscure mythological/symbolic names to enhance their names’ meaning. While this can work, you should use this method with caution.

For example, if you call your antagonist ‘Hebe,’ 99.99% of readers won’t know this references the Greek goddess of youth. Instead, they’ll struggle to pronounce it and get confused. This means you’ll have wasted a chance to craft a name that is meaningful and suggestive in it’s own right.

By contrast, a name like ‘Luke Skywalker’ is a better way to show a character’s nobility, rather than calling them ‘Sigismund’ after the 16th-century King of Sweden.

Likewise, lots of writers recomend using names with root meanings that reflect their key attributes.

Use Letter Sounds:

A character with lots of harsh letters (k, c, v, t) in their name is probably a harsh, tough, uncompromising fellow. For example, you probably don’t want to be friends with ‘Havoc’ and ‘Korvacs.’

Smooth, sibilant letters may make a character seem sly and slippery (i.e. Severus Snape).

Srong, robust-sounding letters may imply that a character is tough, reliable and stoic (i.e. Brad).

Different first letters for different characters:

Having characters named ‘Harry,’ ‘Hedwig,’ ‘Hermione,’ and ‘Hagrid’ all in the same book can make it hard to distinguish between them. Of course, Rowling’s skill for chracterisation meant this wasn’t an issue in Harry Potter, but most writers should avoid having multiple characters with the same first letter. It’s much easier to know the difference between ‘Bob’ and ‘Jack’ than it is to tell between ‘Bob’ and ‘Ben.’

Consider your setting:

A story set in the 1800s should have vastly different character names to one set in the 21st century. Do your research to choose era-appropriate names.

Use a random name genrator:

Not all characters need to have painstakingly-researched, carefully-constructed names. This is where random name genrators come it. Sites like Behind the Name are super useful when you need quick, throaway names. With the ability to specify ethnicities, BTN can actually come in handy for major character names. Even if you don’t copy their suggestions, it’s a great way to start jogging your creativity.

What are your thoughts on character names? How do you come up with names for your characters? What’s your favourite and least favourite character names? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Photo credit: akahawkeyefan via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-SA

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5 thoughts on “How to Create Effective Character Names

  1. Some of my characters are born from the name itself.
    The name Callay comes with a fully formed girl in my mind, whereas others require a bit of searching. I’m pretty biased / picky with my names, I love Irish and exotic sounding names, and also S’s, A’s, C’s, R’s and K’s

    I love your sounds analysis btw, its really cool to think about

    Liked by 1 person

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