Unique Ways to Find Character Names

Character Names

If you’re anything like me, you can spend more time figuring out character names than outlining the entire story. Finding the right name is that important, and you don’t want to go with the first thing that comes to mind, especially for the important main characters.

Sometimes, it’s harder than others to find the right name. If you’re writing an especially dastardly character, it can be hard. I’m facing that problem now. Every time I think of a name, I can think of someone I know with that name, and I don’t want to use it.

It’s time to pull out some of my lesser-used methods of finding a character name. I figured since I struggle with character names, others likely do as well. I hope you find some of these useful!

Unique ways to find a name

Just how do you go about finding that perfect name? Grab a baby book or go to a baby name blog? Sure, you can do that if you want. But let’s look at some unique ways to find those names. In other words: Let’s have some fun!

Take a common name and change a letter

I’ve seen this used several times in fiction. Usually, it’s the first letter that’s changed, and in most cases, the name is really cool.  The first one that comes to mind is Dyson from Lost Girl. Maybe Dyson really is a name (I’ve never heard of it aside from vacuums), but to me it sounds like Tyson with a D.

Combine two names

Along similar lines, you can combine two names, removing some of the letters. Think about some of the couples names who have been put together to make another. For example, I have a character named Stelena. Any Vampire Diaries fans recognize that? (Stefan and Elena.) Being that I’m a Delena fan (Damon and Elena), you can conclude that Stelena isn’t a favorite character.

Movie and TV credits

You may as well turn your movie and TV viewing time into productivity time. Have you ever noticed how many names are listed in the credits? Especially for movies. There are names from all nationalities, and you’re bound to be inspired by something you see.

Social Security

Have you been to the Social Security Administration’s baby name list? You can find names listed by popularity for any given year, going back as far as 1880. Each list has the top 1,000 most popular names, so you can find a lot of names!

Scrivener

If you use Scrivener to compose your novels, they have a name generator tool built in. It’s not the greatest, but it does the job if you’re looking for something quick and easy. You don’t even have to leave your manuscript to find the name you’re looking for.

Pregnancy boards

A great place to discover new and interesting names is on a pregnancy forum. Parents-to-be love to discuss possible names. You will find a wide assortment of the latest trendy names as well as some of the most original ones you’ve ever heard of.

Ethnic sites

Google lesser-used ethnic names. I write about Icelandic vampires, and as a result, I have found some great sites with long lists of Icelandic names. I have found some truly awesome ones that I’ve completely fallen in love with ~ and they’re so unique that most of my readers have never heard of them.

Obituaries

Since a lot of people who die are older, their names aren’t as popular now. (Though I do know of two kids named Meredith.) You can find some gems in the obits, although you can find a lot of those same names in the Social Security site mentioned above. The difference though, is that there are a lot of people who move into the country, and their names wouldn’t be on the SSA list, because only names of those born here are listed there.

What’s yours? Do you have a way to find character names that isn’t mentioned here? Let us know in the comments! I would love to hear from you.

Image by Erik Daniel Drost

About Stacy Claflin

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Comments

  1. In the past, I’ve used many of your techniques, but the one I’ve been relying on most lately is a random name generator that lets you choose fields (male/female/both, common/average/rare). It then lists your choice of 25, 50, or 100 first and last names, and will keep generating them if you don’t like the results. I also use one for places. It gives me suggestions for bars, forests, bodies of water, mountain ranges, beaches, etc. Both have really saved me a lot of time in the last several months.
    Staci Troilo invites you to read… Spring Cleaning: Three Tips for WritersMy Profile

  2. Here’s an idea: random letters but following a pattern, especially for fantasy. Such as the pattern consonant-vowel-consonant: Tak, Saj, Reb, Wep, etc… Once you have a few of these, you could combine them to create longer names. Rebtak, for example. Or take one and add a few letters to make it just a little longer. Sajem, for example.

    You could follow the same procedure but start with a real name. Change every letter randomly but make sure the final name is pronounceable.
    Mark Lee ( invites you to read… B, D, and F are really important. But there’s other letters too. #atozchallengeMy Profile

  3. I use Scrivener. I have also gone to a website called babycenter.com because they have lists of popular baby names. My sister-in-law found a baby name book for me so I have used that as well.

  4. Easy: use Google Maps and look at place names. Because they come from the same area, they have a similar sound. This is especially useful if your fantasy world has different ethnic groups.
    More complex: do it the way names are actually created. Go to the ethnic backgrounds. Especially for places, look for suffixes. -wald, -ford, -ton, -burg, are more obvious examples. but it works for people as well.
    All my characters in “Sword Called…Kitten?” were derived from real Saxon names, and if you look them up, they actually mean something.
    Bottom line, of course, is that they have to sound reasonable when spoken aloud. Mk*lxyk doesn’t really cut it for me.
    My pet peeve? Apostrophes. The most overused, hackneyed and dull way to create names there is. An apostrophe shows a letter left out. If you don’t know what letter is left out, don’t use an apostrophe.

  5. My favourite way to find a random name is to check my spam mail. There are always names that I can use in there. Sometimes there’s a little mixing and matching, but one of these people trying to sell me viagra or convince me that they are lost royalty has a name that I can use in my books.
    Lyle S Tanner invites you to read… Next Month – #AtoZChallengeMy Profile

  6. Stacy, a perfect post for me. Like you I seem to spend an age trying to find the right name. I’ve been driving myself mad trying to find the right name for my Anglo-Saxon character. I will give these tips a go and the tips from the comments too. Many thanks. Helen
    Helen Martin invites you to read… J is for Journeying (blogging A – Z) #AtoZChallengeMy Profile

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