FIVE WAYS TO: Name a character!


So I’ve discovered that I’m really terrible at coming up with blog ideas, so I’ve decided to be extra lazy (ah, the life of a writer) and condense all my eclectic thoughts into a series called ‘FIVE WAYS TO’. So here’s the first one: FIVE WAYS TO name a character!


It’s a bit of a creepy one to start with, but it is the one I use the most. And no, I’m not telling you to go skulking around eternal resting places in search of a good character name (although if you’re writing a horror story and you need the atmosphere… then don’t forget to be respectful and quiet whilst you soak up all that FREE research). There are actually online directories of large graveyards now, which you can search for a big old list of names. Need to name your historical characters from the American Revolution? Why not look at a list of graves from the Revolutionary War Cemetery? Writing an epic love story set in South Africa? Check out this list of Gauteng District Gravestones. If you’re looking for a particular time period, not the birth and death dates on the stones – and make sure to mix up a different first and last name, so that no one can claim you based your murder mystery set in 1910s Russia on real people (I’m looking at you, Rasputin).


Now, if you don’t want your Mum getting too excited, or your significant other to have a heart attack, make sure you wipe your history/hide the book after using. The only glitch here is that these sites won’t help you with surnames, only given names, but it’s a darn good start. Baby naming sites are one of the most useful places to find names for your characters, and they are often arranged by gender, popularity and even decade – so you can choose the perfect name for your little one. I mean your characters, of course. And they even tell you what those names mean, which leads me on to…


Is your character particularly small and sweet? Why not call her Minnie! Do all the English terms not quite fit into your aesthetic? Try some Latin! Denique means “short” in Latin and is a little more exciting than Minnie – plus it sounds a bit more dystopian, if that’s what you’re going for, than a more modern name. The great thing about this method is that you can use it for first and last names. Have a truly evil protagonist? Well then: hello Dr Malum – ‘malum’ being Latin for evil. It’s a little more time consuming, but your readers are sure to love finding these easter eggs in your story and showing off to their friends with their superior knowledge. Google translate is your friend on this one. Just type in your defining characteristic – small, evil, maybe both – and choose the language you want to translate into. Instant name generator! Oh, actually, that reminds me…


If you’re on social media, or you at least don’t live under a rock, then you’ll have played around on a random name generator. Well, forget that one your friend linked you to where it found your perfect porn name (Mine’s Sadie Chocolate, what’s yours, honey?): a customised name generator could be exactly what you need. The one linked here can be edited for country, time period, first name, last name, gender – it even filters in or out rare names as opposed to common ones. Cool, right? And if you need something even more specialist than this, then there’s a generator for you: check out this Fantasy Name Generator website dedicated to high fantasy name generators – originally made to help you name your World of Warcraft character, but hey, there’s no reason you can’t do both.


OK, so a bit like with the graveyard names: I am not telling you to name a character Kelly Crabtree, after the girl that bullied you in year three and pointed out that you had wet yourself in front of the whole bus on the school trip to High Ash Farm. Not that that ever happened to me. Just an example. Ahem. No, don’t name the character Kelly Crabtree – but you could name a mean character Kelly, or give them a last name of Crabtree. Did you have a really kind teacher at school? Why not use her last name for your gentle sidekick? Maybe you have a celebrity crush, or even admire a famous actor’s work both in film and for charity – name your protagonist after that. Be careful of copyright, but you could even go as far as to think about other favourite characters, and how they might feed into your MC’s name. I loved ET and Pete’s Magic Dragon growing up, and I recently binged the first season of Mr Robot – so I chose to name my love interest Elliot, as a sort of homage to those movies and TV shows.

And those are my FIVE WAYS TO: name a character! There are definitely many more – and probably better – ways to do it, but let’s be honest: we’re writers. Nothing wrong with skulking around a graveyard, baby name book in hand, whilst we scroll through world of warcraft characters on our phones and mutter about how we’re going to kill the fictional version of Kelly. Right? Right? Guys?

Before I’m formally arrested, comment below so I can read about how you name those characters.


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