Naming Your Fictional Characters

A lot of writers have a hard time finding the right name for their characters when they’re writing a novel or short story. Personally, I often change names a few times before settling on a final one, and sometimes go through whole drafts with XNAME as a placeholder.

Here are seven tips to help you name your fictional characters:

Use a placeholder name

If you can’t find the right name, just stick something in your draft as a placeholder for the time being. This can be a name that’s close to what you want (something that starts with M), a brief description of the character (e.g. “waitress”), or do what I do and just write NAME or XXX.

Interview your character

Who knows–maybe they’ll just tell you their name!

Search online

You can do use Google or a baby name website to perform highly specific name searches based on your fictional character’s personality, nationality, or the vibes you’re going for. For example, you can do searches like “boy names that mean strong,” or “Irish girl names that start with B,” or “unisex names for Korean babies.”

Buy a baby name book

Online searches allow you to be more specific, but I really like having a hard copy of a baby name book on hand for when I’ve blocked myself out of the Internet. 100,000+ Baby Names by Bruce Lansky is a good one because it also has popular names from non-American cultures (e.g. Chinese names, Mexican names, Japanese names, etc.) whereas a lot of baby name books are full of only the standard American and English popular names like James, William, Elizabeth, etc.

Try Fantasy Name Generator

This is a great online tool to help you brainstorm, even if you’re not writing fantasy. They have a selection of real names by nationality as well as collections of fantasy names with categories like “futuristic names,” “vampire names,” and even “gargoyle names.”

Remember you can always use “find and replace”

This tool is available on most writing programs (Word, Googledocs, Scrivener). It makes it easy to find, for example, every instance of “Constance” and change it to “Helen” if you change your mind later about your character’s name.

Be patient

It can be hard to know who a character really is until you see them in action. It might take a full draft to get a good enough sense of them to give them a name. I’ve had drafts where I had one name for months, until I realized at the very end (once I got to know my character inside & out) that their name was something different.

Hope this helps!