How to Name Your Characters

Naming characters is probably the most difficult and most important part of writing a book. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but once I spent three hours trying to find the right name for a bird. I’m not even kidding. But to me, a character’s name is what makes a person. It can give you insight into who they are before they even open their mouth, or draw their sword. A name has power.

So that’s why I often feel like there’s so much pressure to find the right name for your character before you start writing a novel. I know some authors don’t feel the need to have the right name for their character from the get-go and aren’t attached to the name when they eventually change it. But I’m just not one of those people. If I don’t have an instant connection to the name I’m going to use, I can’t start. It just won’t be the same.

If that means going through page after page of baby name searches online, looking up their definitions and trying to find something that hasn’t been used abundantly before and something that fits the personality of the character, so be it. If I have to sit at a cafe for six hours straight with far too much coffee in my system until I think of the perfect name, I’ll do it. Because a name is never just a name to me—it’s so much more than just a string of letters. Just like a book is so much more than a bunch of words on a page.

So in today’s post, I’m going to write a bit about the various ways you can find the perfect name for your character…

Online Name Directories

This is probably the most useful tool I’ve found when trying to find names is using online sites. If you have a personal preference for names beginning with a particular letter, then it’s perfect. Otherwise… have fun spending the next 15 years reading through every name and still being unable to narrow down your choices. Because what’s worse than not knowing what to name your characters? HAVING TOO MANY CHOICES. Ahh, the internet is a blessing and a curse.

Cup of Coffee

Starbucks

Okay… this isn’t creepy, I swear. But if you sit near the barista and listen to the names they call out, you might just come across the perfect one for your protagonist. But then again, they do tend to butcher the spelling – or even the name itself. So you might end up with something really unique! The one time I tried to do this, I got about four Emma’s in a row, but maybe you’ll be more lucky than me. Starbucks is my second home.

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People You Know

Did that teacher give you a bad grade? Is there someone you’re still salty at from high school? Or is there someone you have an appreciation for that you want to show them by using their name in your novel? You can use your authorial powers for good or evil when you name characters after people you know. Downsides may include killing off people you like in real life because it fits the narrative, but I’m sure they’ll understand.

Laptop

Keyboard Smash

Have you ever read an epic fantasy and just been unable to pronounce the protagonist’s name? BECAUSE SAME. Some of them just look like a bunch of letters strung together randomly. So if that works for some really successful authors, why not try the same method? Just do a good ol’ keyboard smash and see how that turns out. How about jenfk? Or suwnc? There you go. Two brilliant names for your next fantasy bestseller.

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Flying Tips for Flightless Birds

This was such a fun novel! I went into this book with few expectations, but I was pleased to find that it was an incredibly cute, heartwarming, and just a light read. It was exactly what I wanted to read. I’m obsessed with circuses and anyone with any morsel of coordination, which I so clearly lack, and that made reading about these trapeze artists something that made me simultaneously want to run away with the circus and stay on my bed where it’s safe and I’m not going to fall and break something.

The sibling relationship between Finch and Birdie was so great to see. I don’t often come across siblings in books, especially siblings who are as close as Finch and Birdie were, and that was lovely to read about. Plus, their dialogue was hilarious and they were just such fun people to get to know. Finch and Hector’s growing relationship was adorable too. If you’re looking for a quick, fun read, then you should definitely pick up Flying Tips for Flightless Birds.

Rating:

4 Stars

Thanks to Walker Books Australia for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review!


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Secrets for the Mad

I’m actually surprised by how much I enjoyed this memoir! I’ve watched a few of Dodie’s YouTube videos, but I’m a massive fan of her music. I didn’t know that much about her before commenting this book, apart from the fact that her Instagram theme is lit and she has the cutest fashion style. But though reading Secrets for the Mad, I learnt not only about her childhood, her rise to fame, her mental health, and everything that led to where she is right now. We got to hear about the highs and the lows of her life—this truly was a candid, honest insight into the life of Dodie Clark.

I listened to the audiobook version of this memoir and I loved hearing Dodie’s insights and stories through her own voice. I also loved the songs that were peppered throughout the chapters, allowing us to gain more of an insight into the events and emotions that fed into the creation of her art. Even from following her on Instagram, I’ve admired how she isn’t afraid to show people the more negative aspects of her life and how she doesn’t feel the need to hide behind a mask. Her memoir is just an extension of that, and she allows us into her life with open arms. It felt like a friend talking. It was just a beautiful, short read that people who like Dodie and those that have only vaguely heard of her will appreciate.

Rating:4 Stars


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Leah on the Offbeat

My heart is full, my crops are flourishing, my anxiety is cured… THIS BOOK IS MY LIFE NOW. Honestly, I was really worried about how Leah on the Offbeat would play out. Of course I always love seeing bi rep in books, but I had a twinge of fear that Leah would only be acknowledged as a member of the queer community if she was in a relationship with another girl. I’ve seen it happen so many times before. If a bi girl is in a relationship with a bi girl, their identity is validated. If she’s in a relationship with a guy, she’s straight. It’s infuriating. So yeah… I was worried Leah would only end up with a girl for the sake of bisexual validity, which is absurd.

However, this book definitely exceeded my expectations. Not only was it great to be back in the world of Creekwood and Simon and Waffle House, but seeing Leah take the spotlight was just so incredible. Not to mention Leah on the Offbeat debuted at #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list — a book about a fat bi girl. How incredible is that?! I’ll just be over here crying of happiness. And look at all those marginalised writers slaying those charts! What a time to be alive. I’m so happy for all of those phenomenal authors with important, moving stories to tell.

I absolutely loved getting to know Leah more on a personal level, far more than we ever got to know her in Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda. But what I loved most was seeing more of her friendships and the changing group dynamics with the original squad from Simon Vs. Although there’s still talk of Simon and Blue, this book is definitively Leah’s. Seeing her explore her feelings for this person she had a crush on was just so adorable, and I couldn’t have been happier with the way things turned out for her. SO MUCH LOVE FOR THESE TWO. What adorable munchkins. If you loved Simon Vs, or if you just want a cute queer love story, you need to pick up this novel.

Rating:

5-stars

Thanks to Penguin Australia for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review!


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Six of Crows

Why did I wait so long to read this phenomenal novel? I know literally everyone has been screaming at me to read it ever since it came out, but I only got around to listening to the audiobook last month. And I adored it. I think one of the reasons why I put off reading this duology for so long is a) because I get confused when reading high fantasy and just tend to give up too quickly and b) because it’s told by multiple narrators. When you pair those two fact together, that’s pretty much a book I’m guaranteed to DNF. But because I knew so many people loved this novel, I wanted to give it a fair go. So I did what I always do when approaching ambitious reads—I listened to the audiobook.

Listening to the audiobook made the distinctions between the characters so easy, which is something I often struggle with in multi-POVs. But hearing each of the characters’ voices through the use of a full cast was everything I could have wished for, and I just adored their group dynamics. I enjoyed the narrative itself, but I was way more attached to the characters than this mission they had to complete. I’ve heard that the stakes are raised exponentially in the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, so I can’t wait to listen to that one soon! I know it’ll kill me in the best way possible.

Rating:

4 Stars


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The Learning Curves of Vanessa Partridge

I was looking forward to picking up another #LoveOzYA novel, but unfortunately, this one wasn’t for me. I also need to point up that there’s no acknowledgement of non-binary, gender fluid, or trans people when talking about sex in relation to “girl parts” and “boy parts”, so keep that in mind if you decide to pick up this book. But the main reason why I couldn’t connect to this narrative was because it was so focussed on sex and lust, which are things I normally only read about in small doses. I’m also just not really a fan of allocishet stories because the majority of what I read contains queer characters, but that’s really just on me. I’m sure a ton of people will adore this novel! This book discusses some important issues, like consent, sex and friendship, but I just couldn’t really connect with it.

Rating:

2-stars

Thanks to Allen & Unwin Australia for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review!

Let's Talk

If you’re a writer, how do you come up with names for your characters? Do you have any other tips for finding the perfect name for your character? What’s the weirdest character name you’ve ever come across? Have you read any of the books I reviewed? I’d love to know!

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21 thoughts on “How to Name Your Characters

  1. I’m not a writer but i did write a story once, and i decided to call my main characters Ben and Kate. Later i discovered there was a tv series called Ben & Kate. I’m still not over this 🙈🤤
    Baby name lists are cool tho if someone is interested in the meaning of the names

  2. (I’m so so excited for Leah’s book! My copy is taking FOREVER to arrive, but hopefully it’ll be here soon hhaha. 😂)

    And YES! Names are important. I unfortunately do suck at them though, and can write whole outlines and leave characters nameless whoops. I also generally change names while I’m working (like one of my books has had nearly EVERY character go through a name change as it went through edits yikes). But some names are non-negotiable and I love it when that happens. The characters seem more real. 😍

  3. This was such a helpful post! Coming up with character names is my fave part of the writing process and you definitely gave me some more innovative ideas for the future. fr that Starbucks idea is awesome, I definitely need to try it the next time i’m starting something new! Lovely post 🙂

  4. I totally agree, for me the names of a character are so so important! If I don’t have a name I love and feel perfectly suits the character then I just won’t be able to start writing. Baby name lists are definitely a saviour haha, although the Starbucks idea is awesome! I’m so excited for Leah’s book! It sounds incredible and I can’t wait to be back in the world of Simon.

  5. Literally, I name my characters based on names I hear shouted across the street and stuff. You’d think planning the story would be the hardest part… nope…. it’s the naming. There’s so much responsibility with it though. O.O

  6. Fantastic list Sarah! I always struggle with naming my characters, I seem to gravitate back to the same few names every time (which is boring but for some reason it’s how my mind works). This gives me heaps of inspiration, thank you 😊😊

  7. Hahahah, I always feel so awkward going through baby name websites for character names, but it’s not weird at all?! Thank goodness! 🙈 It’s really difficult to come up with good names, but I totally agree they should fit the character!

    Also, OMG, I LOVED Six of Crows! I listened to the audiobook as well and I loved how there are multiple narrators. It changed the entire book for me. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Crooked Kingdom was really great as well! ☺️

  8. Your timing could not be better. I’m coming out of retirement to write another novel, and nothing can happen in a novel without happening TO someone, and every someone needs a name.

    (Oh, and I have gotten names from cemeteries, but that’s kind of creepy if you think about it.)

  9. The Starbucks suggestion cracked me up 😂
    I usually go for a mix of all the options. Some names of my characters are from people I know but a bit mixed up because of the fantasy setting. Usually in this case the character is inspired by the same persone too.

    Name directors are great. Also when maybe you’re writing something inspired by another culture and maybe yopu want to create name on their own. It may be a star guide to learn how name from such country sounds, where are used, the frequency and the meaning. I found Behind the Name as a good site for this

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