Tips to Help Name Characters!

Since I just completed a novel (first draft) what better way to celebrate and move on whilst editing than to start a NEW novel!
One of the first steps (for me) when starting a new novel is fleshing out my characters. Since I tend not to do the outline thing (writing on the fly is so much more fun!) I do start out with at least a breakdown of my characters. That way I don’t forget what colour eyes or hair, or what their favourite ice cream is while I’m writing. If I don’t know where the novel is going I should at least know my characters.
But before I can really figure out if my character likes black, or red, wears tight skinny jeans, or baggy hang low on the hips ones, or if they like strolls on the beach or hanging out in cemeteries they need NAMES!
Since a name in my opinion says a lot about a character right off the hop I tend to over think this and spend too much time coming up with the perfect name. But, oh well.
Alright, so since I intend to turn this post into something useful—and not just me rambling on about names let’s start with how I go about picking names.
For starters, I take cues from the world around me. If I’m sitting at my son’s swimming lessons or dropping him off at school I listen to and learn what the other children’s names are. If I hear one I like I pull out my trusty iPhone and write down the name.
Another way, which tends to be more popular for me is to think about what the novel is going to be about, and what the character is going to represent. Then I type into Google something like “Names that mean war” for instance if I want my character to be strong willed, or if the novel has war like themes. Some might say it’s cliché to name characters that way, but I think it’s fun. You know why? Because a large portion of the world is not going to know that Aidan is Gaelic in origin and means Fire. Some people just don’t notice little things like that. For me it helps choosing a name, and it’s like my own little secret.
However, picking names that have meanings in my opinion can also get you into trouble sometimes too. Since I tend to pick names that mean something—to me personally or to the novel—I tend to look up other names especially in books that say such and such name means _____. But by god you better be right. There is nothing that peeves me more than an author saying a name that means something but really it means something completely different.
Now of course there are times when it’s okay, if you are world building, have created your own race of people or beings, than hey, if those names aren’t found in the baby name books, then all the power to you, make those names mean anything you want!
Sometimes names are already taken, which is fine. You can have more than one main character with the name Joe or Molly or Frank. But I myself just can’t take another Edward seriously. When I think of that name, see it, or hear it, well I’m not ashamed to admit that a sexy brawnzy haired, yellowed eyed, sparkly Vampire comes to mind.  Same goes for other really popular really hyped names like Harry or Jace. And I’ll bet I’m not the only one that associates names with characters. So, sometimes it’s just better to stay away from those really well known names. You really don’t want people thinking about a Vampire when your character is an Angel or regular Joe. Nor do you want people to unintentional compare your Edward to, well, that super hot vampire people are talking about, right.
Okay, so that’s enough rambling on.
So, go pick a name that will grab the attention of your readers, create a name for your character that will find itself on the top ten baby name list the year after your novel comes out—because it’s just that awesome and unique, or just name your character after your Aunt Mona twice removed.
Here are some of my favourite Name sites that really do a great job breaking down names and or meanings. I use these for last names as well, which, believe it or not, I follow the same guidelines as mentioned above.

6 Response to "Tips to Help Name Characters!"

  1. ~Charity~ Says:

    Thanks for sharing! I think every writer has a preferred method for picking names. I've never looked up meanings, but that's a cool idea. I keep a list of my favorite names on my desk and refer to it often. That being said, my MCs in my current WIP and the MCs for my next story just came to me. And actually, the idea for my next story started with the names. As for staying away from currently popular names, (Edward was your example) my dad would probably agree. He has a story he started a long time ago centered around an MC named Harry. After Harry Potter was released, my dad changed the MC's name.

  2. Avery Olive Says:

    @Charity, thanks for stopping by and dropping a comment! I love comments :)

    I do believe everyone has there own formula's for picking names, which makes the story behind the name that much more interesting!

  3. Linda Says:

    Great post! I like to use the site if I'm having trouble. You can enter a name as inspiration and it will generate a list of similar names. It's great for when you have something that's close but not quite right.

  4. Avery Olive Says:

    thanks for the comment Linda. I've added that site to my list! Thanks :)

  5. barbrude Says:

    I find myself trolling since there's so many ways to search/browse. And I do love me some Gaelic names.

    The other thing I like to do is pronounce the name out loud all the different ways I can think of. I've killed some names I positively loved because I realized no one would ever pronounce them like I do in my head... wincing when people talk about your characters is probably a bad thing. =P

    Thanks for the links.

  6. Avery Olive Says:

    Wow, great tip Barbrude!
    I never thought of that, I know, people do that when they name babies, or at least they should say them out loud with the last name to see how it flows, sounds, and yes.
    I don't usually like names that could be pronounced numerous way, and if they are pronounced wrong it just sounds not right lol

    Thanks for the other link! Will site, I will add it to me list!