Sometimes, finding just the right name for your character can be tricky. Here, author Suzanne Hartmann shares some ways authors come up with names for their characters.

Naming Characters

By Suzanne Hartmann

Based on the responses I received from questioning authors at a couple of writing forums, the following were the top 10 responses to how writers name their characters.

1) Many characters come to authors already named. Somehow they just know what the character’s name is.

2) Use on-line name lists. Here are a few:

3) Use roots of languages like Latin and Greek to build a meaning behind a character’s name.
for an antagonist – mal means “bad,” so you could create a last name like Malter or Termal or use a first name like Malia or Malin.
a character who is famous – aster means “star” It would make an excellent last name or could become a woman’s name, Asteria.

4) Create a name based on a person’s work or a main character trait in a foreign language. You can use an on-line translator such as where you can type in the English word, choose the language to translate to, and it will give you the foreign equivalent. Do translations until you find one that can easily be tweaked into a good name.
Accountant is “contable” in Spanish and “contablista” in Portuguese, so a good last name might be Conta or maybe Blista or Ablist.
Engineer is “ingeniero” in Spanish and “Ingenieur” in German, so a good first name for a woman might be Genni, or maybe a last name of Geniero.

5) Find a name consistent with the character’s ethnic background. You can search on-line for common names of any nationality.
My character Neil’s parents were from the Netherlands, so I gave him a Dutch-sounding last name (Van der Haas and the English equivalent of a common Dutch name (Neil for Nels).
I also needed Arabic first names, so I did an on-line search for Arabic names.

6) Name a person for someone famous who reminds you of the character or someone famous in the field of work the character has. You will want to tweak the name, however, so it’s not too blatant and obvious. To do this, you could use only the person’s first name or change a few letters. To make the reference even more obscure, you could come up with a name that has the same initials or take the letters of a famous person’s name and mix them up to create another name.
Someone who is honest – give him the first name Abe or the last name Lincoln
A psychologist – give him a name that has the same initials as Sigmund Freud
A cowboy – mix up the letters in John Wayne’s name to come up with Jay Wohnen

7) Match the sound of the name to the character’s personality/role. This works especially well for science fiction and fantasy novels.
antagonist – short, abrasive, harsh-sounding names
protagonist – eloquent, flowing names

8) Use words that indicate something about the person’s character or work.
an antagonist – a name with “black” in it: Blackstone, Blackwell
a magician – a name that includes the letters “prest” (from prestidigitation)
a mechanic – a name of a car: Ford, Mercury, Cutlass, Bonneville
a cook/chef – the name of a spice: Tarragon, Curry, Cory (for Coriander)
a musician – the name of a style of music or something musical: Cadence, Staff, Baroque

9) Use the name of a friend, family, or acquaintance that you associate with a certain personality or a trait that matches that of your character. We all know people who are practical jokers, scatterbrained, intelligent, shady, etc.

10) Keep a list of interesting names you come across. You can find them in newspapers, phone books, on-line articles, social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, war memorials, office doors, letterheads of junk mail, game shows, the Bible. The list is endless.

Mix and match any of the above techniques to come up with unlimited unique names.


1533967_10205986376965156_6599798759282678584_nSuzanne Hartmann is the author of the novels Peril and Conspiracy, Christian suspense she calls fiction with a twist of the unexpected. For the last several years, she has also stepped into the editorial side of writing, with her work at Port Yonder Press and now Castle Gate Press. She offers a plethora of easy-to-understand writing advice on her blog, Write This Way, which she has compiled into a book of the same name (available at her blog). When not writing, editing, or homeschooling, she enjoys scrapbooking, Bible study, and scouring local library sales for good deals. She loves to encourage fellow authors, so stop by her Facebook Page and drop her a note.

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Facebook – Suzanne Hartmann – Author

Twitter – @SuzInIL

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