Thank you, guest blogger Andre Cruz, for the terrific ideas in this article, first published on The Write Life.
When you start writing your story, how long does it take you to come up with character names? Often, choosing the perfect name for your protagonist and antagonist can take ages, especially when you’re not sure how to start.
I’ve been there. After wasting days staring at a blank computer screen, attempting to come up with names for all of my characters, I came up with some helpful naming strategies. Lucky for you, I like to share.
Using any of these methods cuts down the amount of time I spend coming up with character names and lets me get back to the actual writing. Next time you’re stuck and can’t decide what to name your dystopian sharpshooting heroine, try one of these ideas.
1. “Borrow” from a friend or family member
This is the easiest way to create a fictional character name because you aren’t actually creating one! All you are doing is copying. Maybe your father is your hero, so you decide to name your protagonist after him.
Just be careful. Make sure you ask permission and let him know ahead of time of how he will be portrayed. You may think all you will be using is his name, but some of his personality traits may unwittingly end up in your story as well. Especially if you are the type of writer that skips outlines and lets the story unfold in front of you as you write it.
So watch out. These people know where you live!
2. Use Fido and your street
Confused? Let me explain.
Just use your pet’s name as the fictional character’s first name and your street’s name as your character’s last name. Mine would be Butch Fields and yes, he comes from the rough part of a fictional town.
3. Match name with theme
Funnily enough, I have found that the name Andre shows up under themes like manly, strong and brave, which of course I am… after a few drinks.
4. Combine the names of your favorite authors
A second helping of Stephen Rice, anyone? Guess what I did there. This is very similar to number one.
Maybe you don’t feel comfortable using the names of living writers, so how about this… Jack Hemingway? See, I used Jack London and… you get it.
5. Use a name translator
Yep, there is such a thing. And here you thought number one was too easy!
A name translator is a great program that allows a writer to easily discover names in other languages. However, you already have to be thinking of a name. Try tip one and then this tip, or get started by just putting your own name into the translator.
You can head to your favorite search engine and search for ‘name translators’ or ‘my name in’ and type in any language, such as Chinese or Hebrew. You will find plenty of free name translators to use. So if you are looking for a really great foreign name for your character, you can skip Rosetta Stone.
6. Use an encyclopedia and your creative side
No matter what genre it is, think about where your story takes place. Your setting can inspire names for your characters. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it).
Does it have mountains? Are they a part of your fictional characters’ culture? Then research people who have mountains as a part of their culture, such as the Andean people of Peru and the Appalachian people of North America.
What if your story takes place on a faraway planet? Your setting likely looks a bit like some place you’ve seen before on Earth, or maybe a mix of several places. Think of those real places that inspire your off-world setting and think of the real people that make those places their home. Research those places to get a feel of what your fictional culture could be.
After completing your research on the culture or cultures that inspired your fictional one, use the names in those real cultures for inspiration for the names of your fictional characters.
How do you come up with names for your characters? [Note from Andrea: Share in the comments below.]