What’s in a (Character’s) Name?

I have a new kitten, a little silver-gray tabby four months old. At the shelter, they called her “Hedwig”, it’s the name author J.K. Rowling gave the snowy-white owl in her Harry Potter books. My kitty isn’t white. She doesn’t look like an owl, act like an owl, or sound like an owl. She needed a name that fit her.

Authors put much thought into naming their characters. A name should mean something, reflect the character’s personality, or make the reader curious to know more. I named my kitten “Naomi Grace”. In the bible, Naomi is a recent widow who would have been all alone if, by God’s grace, her daughter-in-law promised never to leave her. I want my little Naomi always to have someone who will never leave her. Mine is her forever home. Her name reflects that.

Think about some of the great literary character names that readers remember—Atticus Finch, Ebenezer Scrooge, Robinson Crusoe, Ramona (the pest) Quimby, Miss Havisham—all were carefully chosen by authors to reflect the essence of their characters.

So, how do authors choose the best character names? Imagination and creativity are key, but if the perfect name doesn’t come to mind, there are tools that can help.

The US Social Security Administration web site includes a page where you can search names and their popularity for any year after 1879. You can search the most common names in US states and territories and even see how names have changed by popularity through the years.

Ancestry.com has a page where you can enter any surname and learn its meaning and origin. The page is free, you don’t have to be an Ancestry subscriber.

Name Combiner is a fun tool where you can enter up to four names and combine them to generate unique names and nicknames.

Here are some others:

Masterpiece Generator (from the UK)

Reedsy’s Character Name Generator

Name Generator for Fun (this one creates a random personality type for each character name)

If you enjoy exploring random places, seek out any small town and read about its history and people. You can also wander among old headstones in cemeteries. Jot down interesting names you find and keep a list.

A name should fit the character’s age, location, and personality. It should be easy to pronounce and fit your story’s genre making sense within the context of time and theme. Think about your characters’ parents and backgrounds. Let them help you choose the right names.

When naming characters
choose names that are right
for your character, your story and your readers.

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Filed under Characters, Creativity, Tools for Writers, Uncategorized

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