Many literary and movie characters have become cultural icons—Atticus Finch, ‘Ratso’ Rizzo, Holden Caulfield and Scarlett O’Hara, for example.
A great character name will help make your story clearer and more memorable. The name should also reveal something about your character: who they are, where they come from or where they are going.
Here are several tips to help you choose the perfect name for your characters.
Tip 1: Make the name age-appropriate
Decide the age of your character and then calculate the year your character was born. If your character was born in the U.S., browse the Social Security Name Popularity List for that year. You will also want to take into account the character’s ethnic background and the ethnic background of his or her parents.
Tip 2: Choose a name by meaning
It could reflect major personality traits, or the character’s role in the story. For example, if your character is a botanist, you may not want to name her Flower (too literal), but you may want to consider the names Linnea or Sage. Even if you choose not to name a character by meaning, you should look up the meaning of all your characters’ names—there may be something that inspires you or, on the other hand, conflicts with your message.
Tip 3: Exotic names are for romance novels, soap operas and strippers
Characters in these genres tend to have names that are more exotic, like Chesapeake Divine or Rod Remington. If you are not writing a romance or soap opera, however, this kind of name can sound silly and out of place.
Tip 4: Science fiction names don’t have to sound alien
It’s difficult to predict what names will be popular in the year 3000, however you don’t have to make your science fiction characters sound like they are from Mars (unless they are). When a person reads (or watches) your story, you don’t want them to stumble over a name. The name Zyxnrid, for example, would be difficult to read or listen to every time the character is referenced—and may detract from your overall story. If you choose to create your sci-fi name, you may want to:
- Combine two common names to make a less common, but pronounceable name. Example: Donica (Donna and Veronica).
- Use ancient mythological names, or combine two of them. Example: Ceres or Evadne.
- Make it easy to pronounce and spell. Example: Bilbo Baggins from Lord of the Rings.
Tip 5: Parents rarely use their kids’ full names
When writing your story, be aware that parents rarely call their children by their full names—unless they are admonishing them for bad behavior or testifying in court. If you have loving parent characters that are addressing their kids, use a nick name or term of endearment. An exception to this would be if you want to show the parent character being cold and distant to their child.