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Naming Characters

January 12, 2012

I hate naming characters. I would name everyone Jane if I could.

I actually really appreciate a good character names. I just hate coming up with them. But every once in a while a name strikes me. I currently have a name stashed away that is perfect for a superhero. It is up there with Clark Kent as far as iconic names (in my opinion anyway).

Some names have such power. Like Ebenezer Scrooge. Perfect name. And I bet you have some favorite names from Harry Potter. I know I do. And while most of the names in Harry Potter have meanings attached to them, I don’t think that is always necessary. If the meaning is too obvious, it might even annoy your readers. And not everyone is a linguist. I know I’m not though I love language.

So, how to come up with names? I hate name generator websites. Baby name websites are overwhelming. So I go from real life mostly. I know this doesn’t help those who are trying to name aliens or ye olden royalty but for modern names it is splendid.

Until recently I worked at a pharmacy. My particular pharmacy fills about 500 prescriptions per day. Granted, not all of those are for different people but I see a lot of names every day. And I pick names I like and write them down on pieces of paper I stick in my pocket and find weeks later. I also look at some names and think “Really? You named your kid THAT? What kind of twisted parent are you?” And I get character and story ideas that way.

Another place I get a lot of names is movie credits. Hundreds of names that were carefully thought out by parents (we hope), ripe for the plucking. If you want one movie to look at the credits for, I suggest the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring. They include the (then current) listing of The Official LOTR Fanclub. The extended credits are 45 minutes long. I’m not kidding. That is a lot of names! You won’t even have to pause to catch plenty of names. I’m sure you can find at least one name you like in there.

Spam filters. These names are not always usable but some are classic in their strangeness. Go ahead and take a look.

And of course, Scrivener’s name generator. It is fantastic for giving you a bunch of names that sound similar as far as place of origin. Better for background characters but handy to have a list so you don’t have to panic when you need to name the school teacher AND the butcher in one sitting.

Places not to get names? Do not take character names from The Lord of the Rings and change a few letters. Yes, I’m looking at you Eragon. We all know how you came up with that one. Tolkien took his time with those names and with the movies, we all recognize them now. I really have no advice for fantasy names. They’re hard.

And you can always change the names later. Even J.K. Rowling changed some names. While Hermione was always Hermione, she wasn’t always a Granger (go find the list of character names on So name those characters! Don’t let the lack of a name stop you from writing!


x Heather

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 12, 2012 6:16 pm

    (Confession) I haven’t been to your blog in a bit because of school starting, but this post made me laugh; especially the bit about where you work. What a good idea! I’ve done the spam filter thing, and I also like walking in graveyards. (My first date with my wife was eating ice cream and walking in the graveyard on a summer afternoon.. it became kind of a tradition.)

    The movie credits thing is GENIUS! Also… where is the name generator in Scrivener? I can’t find it. =(

    • January 12, 2012 9:57 pm

      Graveyards! I knew I forgot something. The name generator in Scrivener is under Edit > Writing Tools (at the bottom) > Name Generator. I love that your first date was in a graveyard. If you don’t put that in a story, I will. Pure gold! Hope your school days are going well.

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