4 Methods For Creating Character Names


by Ryan Lanz


A common question I hear tossed about is how to create character names. Some writers find this simple, and yet others struggle with naming every single one, particularly concerning the main cast.

In this post, we’ll talk about tricks and tips for creating character names, and perhaps we’ll bring some ease to the process.


What’s in a name?

Before we go much further, let’s consider why a name is important. I’m sure some of you are asking the screen right now, “Why does it matter?” This may seem trivial at first, but as we continue, I’m sure you’ll see how even the very sound of a name impacts how your reader views the character. Sounds crazy, right?

Your name is important because that is essentially you. It’s a form of the very essence of you and what makes you unique from everyone else. Theoretically, nobody has your exact name (if you toss in your last name and perhaps a few middle ones). So, your name reflects you.


Name Sounds

Let’s test the above theory. I’m going to rattle off some names, and by the end, think aloud (or tell the screen, although the screen may not respond back) what impression you get from the character. To be fair, I’ll make an attempt at using a varied background, as well as including some fantasy names.

  •  Ravid, Peter, Dorsi, Sarah, Rose, Han, Faraj, Suri, Sophie, Pai, Luisa, and Alexi.

Compare to:

  • Amichai, Misaki, Victor, Axelle, Braxton, Vladlen, Roddix, Padraig, Emmerich, Victoria, and Chikelu.

So! What impression did you get from each set of names? What assumptions did you draw about group one compared to group two? Did one group give you a hero feeling, whereas the other gave you a villain feeling? Protagonist vs. antagonist? Sympathetic vs. non-sympathetic?

If you’re looking for the answers to the test, there are none. I only consciously followed two methods with the two groups. So, if you felt an opposing reaction to each group, then you are proving the aforementioned point of how even just the sound of the name can paint a picture in your mind of what you expect out of the character.

Here are the two methods I used: the second group has, on average, more hard-sounding consonants and are slightly longer. Anything else you generated was drafted from your own imagination.

The above was not meant to be a representation of any hard-fast rules, but merely an exercise to get you thinking. I have noticed, however, that the recent books I have read often make the protagonist’s name shorter, sounding lighter on the tongue (less hard-sounding consonants). It’s no secret that villains often have harsher sounding names.


Creating Character Names

This is a skill that comes more naturally to some people than others. Personally, I don’t struggle too much in this category. What I do is mull a character over in my mind, and a name floats to the surface of my subconscious. For a lot of writers, this method doesn’t work at all. So here are a few tips for generating your own:

  • Observe the people around you: model your character names around people you know, although I advise to change a few letters to make it less obvious. For example, Joan can become Joine.
  • Use a name generator online: there are multiple websites for baby names. Another website I have used before is behindthename.com. What’s nice about that website is that you can pick the type of flavor/nationality you want.
  • Model the name after a character attribute (wordplay): if I say the name Nicity, you think of someone nice, don’t you? Or how about the name Brutus or Honori? I have named several characters by modeling them after the attribute I want the reader to associate with that character.
  • This is a fringe suggestion, but if you’re writing a far-out science fiction or fantasy book, you could create a culture where deciding diverse names is non-applicable. You could make all the character names as numbers, or by what day they were born on, or by the profession that society has chosen for them at birth.
  • Watch movie credits: while most people ignore the credits, it’s also a great way to find unique names. Of course, you won’t want to copy them verbatim, but they can give you some nice ideas.



Whatever you name your characters, the key thing is that they have to sound right to you. No matter what, some readers will like the names and some won’t, but you’re the one who has to live with them for the next __ months/years while you write the darn thing. If your book/story becomes successful, you’ll be repeating the names for the rest of your life, so pick ones that sit well with you.

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The above names are created randomly, are intended to be fictional, and have no bearing on the personality of a person who actually has one of these names.




Ryan Lanz is an avid blogger and author of The Idea Factory: 1,000 Story Ideas and Writing Prompts to Find Your Next Bestseller. You can also find him on Twitter, Facebook, andTumblr

Image courtesy of Jack Dorsey via Flickr, Creative Commons.

26 thoughts on “4 Methods For Creating Character Names

  1. I’ve been outlining and brainstorming a new piece of serialized fiction this week. This post will come in handy as I work on preliminary character names. Thanks!


  2. Character names are both fun and frustrating for me. I spend a long time deciding on the right name for my protagonists. Behindthename is a great resource but I often delve deeper to make all the character names work. There are naming blogs, lists of actual historical people on Wikipedia, etc. If I use real names of rewl people, it’s the first name of one person with the last name of anothet. One technique I use is to make lists of names that are common in my world. When I wrote a novel set in an alternate 19th century France, I put together a list of names common in that time period. That way, minor characters got appropriate names without me having to stop to find the right name.


  3. I write fantasy, so I tend to make more “ancient” names while for people from the same culture I’ll just give them similar sounding names (because that’s how it is in the real world!)


  4. I can see where those writing fantasy or dystopian books may have problems but I write conteporary romance books and it tends to be easy for me. Coming up with names is probably the easiest part of writing a book for me, lol.


  5. Nice article. I also like drawing from historical or other fictional sources for character names. Quentin Tarantino does this too; naming characters in reference to movie characters from different eras or historical figures. The TV show lost named a lot of characters for historical figures and philosophers (John Locke, Desmond Hume, Rousseu, Faraday, to name a few) which gave the characters another level of intrigue and created associations between the characters and ideas probably already bore in the reader’s mind.


  6. I struggle with character names sometimes. I’ll give a character a random name on the first draft. By the end, if a better sounding name comes along, I’ll insert to see if it works. If so, I keep it. If not, it usually means I have to get to know my character deeper (which is what I should be doing anyway).


  7. I’ve heard some will browse the phone book, searching based on that opening letter.
    One of my favorite methods is to consider what culture the character comes from, and see if there are any words in that culture’s language that could be adapted into a name. I remember one story I saw where a character’s name was an adaptation of a German word that meant swindler or deceiver.


  8. Always pick a name that is unique but at the same time doesn’t stand out. Think of a name that you like yourself, I usually choose ones that I like at the time and dependant on when my stories are set use them. Incidentally that is how Ian Fleming chose James Bond. He wanted a name that didn’t stand out.


  9. This is really good. Some very useful suggestions. I wrote an article on character naming about a year ago and found it interesting that you had some ideas I had not thought of and vice versa. If I can figure out how to share this article on my blog – I will 🙂


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