Choosing character names. It can be really fun or make you crazy. I’ve changed the name of my main characters numerous times before. I’ve left parenthesis or ellipsis or dashes in the place of where a name should be because sometimes you just need to write the story down and figure out the specifics like names later. I know. You’re writing a novel about someone’s life and you don’t know what to call them? Shouldn’t that be the number one thing you know? Hey, as long as the finished product doesn’t have them labeled ( ) … or ——— I say you’re good.
So how do you go about naming your characters? Do you meticulously research name origins and meanings? Do you scroll through baby name books or pull out your old yearbook? Do you Google popular names or names of the time period you’re using? Do you create a new name entirely? Or do you sit down and already know?
I’ll tell you my trick. I’ve never made names really “mean” something, and by that I mean I don’t look up names that mean “brave” or “hero” and name my brave hero that. I don’t look through baby name books. I don’t pull a Shakespeare and make up a new word.
I choose a name that sounds cool, fits my characters’ personalities, and ties back to something I personally like. For example, I have pages of names I think sound neat, and I’ll refer to it sometimes if I need a name. But what I usually do is take names from things I like, that excite me, or that I geek out over. Actors or characters in my favorite movies or TV shows or videogames, for example. It’s not to say I’m emulating the characters or actors I’m taking the names from. It’s just more that it makes me happy to tie my character names back to something nerdy I love. And they act as easter eggs for people who know me and read a name and can infer how I came up with it. So here are some examples.
Book 1 Names
Character: Vice Principal Donovan
Where it came from: actor Jeffrey Donovan who played the lead role in Burn Notice, one of my favorite TV shows
Character: Ally Keene, protagonist’s best friend
Where it came from: Commander Keen, an awesome videogame of my youth.
Character: Principal Madden
Where it came from: Joel and Benji Madden from the band Good Charlotte. I was obsessed with this band when I was thirteen and started writing this book.
Book 2 Names
Character: Jennette Brasier, antagonist
Where it came from: actress Jennette McCurdy from the TV show iCarly
Character: Nate, boyfriend of antagonist
Where it came from: Nathan “Nate” Drake, lead character in the Uncharted video game series. (See previous post titled The Call of the Fangirl for more nerdy love on this).
Character: Mrs. Lennox, writing teacher
Where it came from: musician Annie Lennox, who performed on the Return of the King soundtrack. (Don’t get me started on my Lord of the Rings love).
Character: Spencer Hughes, friend of protagonist’s love interest
Where it came from: Shawn Spencer from the TV show Psych and Spencer Reid from the TV show Criminal Minds. Also, John Hughes, the writer and director of so many fantastic movies who died too young.
Book 3 Names
Character: Ezra Winchester, protagonist
Where it came from: Sam and Dean Winchester from the TV show Supernatural
Character: Sadie Atwood, protagonist’s love interest
Where it came from: Ryan Atwood from the TV show The O.C.
Character: Peyton Hammons, protagonist’s best friend’s sister
Where it came from: Peyton Sawyer from the TV show One Tree Hill
Character: Nolan Winchester, protagonist’s father
Where it came from: Nolan North, voice actor in pretty much every video game ever (including Nate Drake in Uncharted!)
So there it is. I’m not saying every single character is named through this method, but a good chunk of them are. One time I did use the yearbook method. I absolutely could not decide on a last name for the best friend of my main character. I was fed up, pulled out a yearbook, closed my eyes and opened to a page. I vowed that whatever name I pointed to, no matter what, would be the name. I opened my eyes and saw “Eatmon.” I’d never heard of such a name, but a promise is a promise. So, thank you, random classmate I never knew. Your obscure last name has served me well.
What are your methods for choosing character names? Do you stress over it or make it fun? Do you have tips to add? Comment below!