One of the hardest things about writing a new novel, script or other written piece is finding the right character name.

Character names have to sound just right and often people can spend hours agonising over the right sound, ease of spelling and all sorts of other factors.

I try and name my characters in one of three ways.

  1. Name after someone I know.
  2. Find a name meaning that matches the character’s personality.
  3. Search for popular names in that period/region.

Naming after someone I know

This can help with the more minor chracters but I wouldn’t recommend it with your major chracters. It’s a trick I’ve used on a few occasions and will probably use again. I know the author Joe Konrath also does this occasionally as part of contests where the winner gets a minor character (Occasionally a major chracter) named after them.

The name still has to fit in your setting however. Bob isn’t going to work if it’s 1810 and likewise Fitzwilliam doesn’t work so well as a first name in a book set now. I named James Long in With Proud Humility after one of my relatives that was in the Caribbean at the same time I’d set my book.

Finding a name meaning

This is my favourite way of naming the main characters of my books, especially my main females. Usually I will get a good feel for how I wish my chracter to act and who they are before I even attempt naming them this way. Sometimes I just use their position within society or something similar.

This can be quite time consuming but I’ve found searching for a baby name site on google speads up the process somewhat. Sadly the baby name site I normally use has just installed some really annoying video ads that restart each time you click to a new page on their website so I won’t recommend them to you. There are lots of them though and most of them easy to search by meaning.

I’ve named Kaihaitu in this fashion by looking up what names had the meaning leader in Maori, as well as Tanwen which means white fire.

Popular names

Looking up names in a particular time can be very useful for historical fiction or books set in other countries. This is probably how I name the majority of my characters. For example the new book I’m writing has a large chunk of the chracters being from the same Maori tribe. It makes sense for me to look up common names originally used within the Maori culture. Then all I have to do is go through the lists and pick ones I like the sound of. Kinda like naming babies really.

If you’ve tried all that and you’re still stuck for a name try asking another writer to help. You will be surprised how many names get tucked away in the recesses of memories when you look up so many names all the time.