How I Choose My Character Names

Painstakingly.

Do a search through your book.  How many times will your characters refer to themselves?  How many times will you, as the writer, type their names?  In my most recently novel, Occupational Hazards, I typed the Alexis’s sister’s name 362 times.  Melissa isn’t even a physical presence in Alexis’s story most of the time, and she’s referenced that often.

Now imagine I’d named Melissa “Crapbag.”

Not only would that be ridiculously distracting, it would just make me want to watch season 10 of Friends again.  Which means I wouldn’t be reading my own book.  And in that moment, I’ve lost a reader.  (Myself.)

Well, that kind of fell apart…

But either way, names are important.  Names hold power.  And I’d rather read about Alexis and Melissa Holmes than Snotrag and Crapbag Fartsalot.  (Well, mostly.)

So my process for picking names is painstaking.  First, I ask my beta, Krissy.  But Beta Krissy (as she shall henceforth be called) has terrible name suggestions.  So I nod politely, write down her options, and when she’s out of ideas, I promptly delete the document.

(For some reason, I continue to ask Beta Krissy for naming advice.)

Second, I reference one of two websites.

  1. This one.
  2. And this one.

Babynames has a lot of great lists, and they even have a “for writers” section.  I personally think it’s a joke, but it could be helpful for really, really new writers.

Nameberry is just flat-out awesome.

If you’re hurting for inspiration, check out both.  And if those fail because you’re writing high fantasy, and of course Jim won’t work (except in an ironic sense), try some genre-specific name generators.  They’re ridiculously easy to find.  Look, Google has millions of them.

As for last names, I like clean, short names that are easy to pronounce.  Unless, of course, it’s specific to the story; I once named a character Jocelyn Postlethwait, because in that world all the dragon-tamer families had ridiculous last names.  It was quite fun to research that one.

No offense meant if your last name really is Postlethwait.  The rest of the world is secretly jealous of you.

Also—and I can’t rave about them enough—the forums on the National Novel Writing Month site are amazing.  There’s an entire section called “Adoption Society,” and it houses everything from plots to settings to titles to character names.  So if I’m really stuck, I’ll pull up those ideas and start perusing.

So anyway, that’s my process.  Now I want to hear your character names!  How do you pin them down?

 

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