5 No-Brainer (Yet Almost Always Overlooked) Ways To Pick Character Names For Your Book

My wife was 8 months pregnant and we still hadn’t decided on a name for the baby. I mean this is a big decision right!? Think about how many hundreds of thousands of times this name will be used through the course of his/her life. Sure we tossed around tons of ideas just like everyone does.


Me: How about Daniel?

Wife: What would we call him for short?

Me: I dunno, Danny?

Wife: Nope

Wife: How about Kevin?

Me: The Home Alone Kid?

Wife: Ok scratch that.

Wife: How about Jason?

Me: Nope, I knew a kid in 1st grade who ate crayons named Jason.

Wife: Ugh


You know the drill.


Names are hard.


And have you noticed it’s not much easier to pick character names for your story either. They may not be real people, but if you write well enough you’re readers will swear they are 🙂


At the very least you’ll be quite intimate with the characters of your story so you wanna make sure you feel good about their names.


So here’s a quick tip to help you out.


1. Baby Name Books

For instance check out this book called The Baby Name Wizard.
Unlike other books Wattenberg doesn't list name "meanings" but instead each of her name entries indicates the following:

  • The popularity of the name in question,
  • Its pronunciation(s),
  • Common nicknames and variants,
  • A note about the name,
  • A note about popular associations with the name,
  • And, crucially, what "style" the name is and what sibling names would pair well with it.

As far as I'm concerned these last two features could come in really handy for storytelling.

For example, the entry for Hugo looks like this:

Hugo (HYOO-goh)

Popularity: #439 [there is also a small graph showing its popularity from 1880 to today and indicating its peak rank attained and year]

Styles: Ladies and Gentlemen, French, Latino/Latina

Nicknames: Huey

Sisters: Lola, Ivy, Astrid, Phoebe, Luna, Thea

Brothers: Oscar, Bruno, Felix, Xavier, Milo, Hector

For most of the 20th century, Hugo was relegated to the dust heap with Amos and Buford. Eventually, though, parents brushed off the dust and discovered a funky, charismatic classic. In its native France, this long-neglected name has skyrocketed. It's especially adorable on a toddler
In the world: 2011 film Hugo; actor Hugo Weaving; Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez

2. Watch Credits At The End Of Movies

Author Jeffrey Archer, for instance, says he watches the credits at the end of films. “Or I might see a surname I like in a newspaper. I keep them all on a list,” he says. “Then, when the time comes to begin writing, I’ll look back at that list and pick out the ones that best suit the characters.”

3. Use A Name Generator

Scrivener has an awesome name generator feature with all kinds of bells and whistles. Just check out this short video about how to use alliteration when generating names to come up with super catchy names.

4. "Ask Yourself 'Why Did Their Parent(s) Name Them This?'

For example, I read a comment the other day where someone said,

I have a family of characters where the father was a botanist so he named the two boys Lyndon and Glenn. But his name was Gavin, which has nothing to do with plants, because *his* parents didn't know he was going to be a botanist!

If you pick names that don't have any reasoning, other than 'it sounds cool/cute' then it really isn't the best of names. Just as having a name that 'just happens' to go with their chosen profession isn't the best of choices, unless it is a family business, like Cobbler or Baker, something that goes back to the time where peoples last names came from their job.

Same with having a happy child who never cries and is an eternal optimist named Sunny. Parents do not know what their babies temperament, job or skils will be so naming a character after these things is silly, unless you have a reason.

5. Wait For It...Use A Temporary Name

Sometimes it's easier to build your character using a temporary name and then go back and change it to something that fits better later in your writing. The first name chosen is not always the name that I end up using for my characters.

Worried about having to go back and change all the instances of your character's temporary name? Have no fear. Check out how easily this is done using Scrivener's Replace feature.


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