10 Ways to Name Your Characters

A comment by Serenity Woods reminded me about a blog post I have been meaning to write. She said that her husband always knows she is contemplating a new book when she takes her book of baby names off the book shelf.

So how can you find inspiration for names? Here are ten suggestions:-

1. Baby name book

2. Mix up first names and surnames you come across in real life or in books and magazines. I amused myself waiting for my son’s graduation to start by looking at the possible name combinations in the programme.

3. One of my favourites is to look at names on memorial benches. These have inspired several of my poems and I thought at one time about trying to get known as a memorial bench poet.

4. Follow the celebrities and name your characters after the places in which they might have been conceived.

5. Experiment with the names of birds – Sparrow, Wren, Linnet.

6. If the story has a historical setting it is important to choose an appropriately aged name. There are several websites giving era appropriate name lists.

7. Try to avoid main character names beginning with the same letter, e.g. Simon and Simone. I read a book recently and had to keep looking back to previous chapters to understand who I was reading about, especially as the female character had a masculine nickname.

8. If someone annoys you the baddie in your story can always be named after them.

9. Use your writer’s notebook to record any likely names which might even be cars or business names.

10. Consult the Bible. My sister and I are not overly religious, but all of our children have biblical names. Naming a character has similarities with naming your offspring and if you get your manuscript published you will have to live with the names for a long time, so choose wisely.

Any other ideas? Or tales of how you named your characters below please?

By Morton S. Gray

Author of romantic suspense novels. http://mortonsgray.com


  1. For me, the title of a story always comes first – and the name of the character is always first. From the name I fill in everything else. I very rarely need a name book, although I do have two. Sometimes I need a little extra help – I certainly did when naming the baddie of my latest novel. I think I chose a doozy!


  2. Baby name books are really useful. I also like to read the credits on TV programmes. Getting a character's name right is so important in defining what kind of person they are.


  3. Good post. Sometimes characters just name themselves & that's the best! Doesn't happen all that often but when it does…Wow!

    Also, it's almost impossible for me to work with a charcter if I have the name “wrong.” It can be a struggle to find the “right” name.


  4. Annalisa – yes it is strange how some characters appear with a full name and demand to be written about.

    Joanne – Television credits will be added to my list.

    Lacey – Thank you. The top names for 2010 have just been announced Oliver and Olivia apparently.

    Flowerpot – Love the passenger list idea. ancestry has historic passenger lists which mught be useful for historicals too.

    Ruth – I agree, if the name doesn't feel right then the words don't flow. But beware of changing names by 'find and replace' – a friend once tried it and the sequence of letters appeared in other words and made a terrible mess of her manuscript.

    Check out http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14321666 for the latest on baby naming and presumably up-to-date character names?


  5. I like the TV credits idea, I don't have a baby name book, but there are so many websites about that I just troll through them, especially ones where you can search for names by their meaning. I also must admit to stealing old school friends names (people I haven't seen in 27 years). And names from my favourite TV shows, Melody is my current heroine (Doctor Who name). Thanks for the great ideas Morton.


  6. I think the family tree is a good one, as you can see a spectrum of names that were around in a particular area at a particular time. This is how I found out that Gawain and Lancelot were actually quite common names in medieval Cumbria!


  7. SpoiltDiva – Love Melody, such an evocative name. I'll have a dig around in the memory banks for childhood friend names.

    Esmeraldamac – Do you trace family trees too? One of my favourite pastimes. Mx


  8. Hi Morton! As you know, I loooooove names, and creating characters is one of my favourite hobbies. I adore reading through my baby naming books and searching for something that fits the new hero or heroine I've got in my head. As Ruth Harris said above, occasionally the characters name themselves, and that's so great when that happens. Other times it takes a bit of hunting around. I work in a school, and occasionally I'll sift through the database of children to see if I can add any of their names to my list of possibilities. Phone books are good for surnames too 🙂 Quite often I'll enter a search into the internet like “names that mean night” or something, and see what that pops up with. Do you find different consonants have different meanings to you? I often give heroines the softer consonants like f, l, or s, and the heroes harder ones like d, g, and t. Although my latest heroine was Tabby, so clearly I don't know what I'm talking about. But names are very important. Now you need to write a post about thinking up book titles, please!


  9. Hi Serenity – Like your tip about searching for a name meaning – I'll definitely use that. Not sure I'm qualified to write a post on book titles, but may take up the challenge. Your titles are always really good. Mx


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