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Fiction Writing: How To Choose Fitting Names For Your Characters

The Writer's Life

Fiction Writing: How To Choose Fitting Names For Your Characters


Giving the characters of your book fitting names is often a very frustrating process. One that, unfortunately, every writer has to go through. Imagine a nursery full of babies. All the countless names. Now imagine that nursery full of adolescents, children, elder men and women, throw in some pets. The writer will have to enter that nursery, clipboard and pen in hand and start giving names that will fit every character, taking into account their gender and their personalities.

Not to mention that when naming a character, you have to consider the era, the role that character will play in the story, his background.

For example, naming a character that hails from Japan’ John wouldn’t be as fitting as naming him ‘Hiroshi’. Unless you have a reason that you explain in the book. John was born in Japan to American parents, or something to that extent.

One of my works in progress features a five foot redhead who weighs around a hundred pounds named ‘Big Mac’. The reason for the odd name is that Big Mac is the nickname of the eldest of the MacAfee siblings, who also happens to be the chairwoman of the MacAfee enterprise.

Another thing the writer has to consider is that character’s age. A lot of the common names in eighteenth century are old fashioned now-a-days and no longer common. It’s wise to research names of that era if you are writing a historical. Even if you are writing in the current time, if your character is seventy year old, then research the names that were common seventy years ago.

Some writers name their characters whatever name comes to their mind, and sometimes it works for them. Sometimes it’s the perfect name; sometimes the name just doesn’t fit.

When this happens, the writer should research. If the character is Russian, then research Russian names; write down the ones that best fits that particular character.
Do the same for surnames.

So when naming a character, remember to consider:

  • the era,
  • the setting,
  • the personality of your character,
  • the background of that specific character

Extra things to keep in mind when naming a character:

  • Never name two or more characters in your book with similar sounding names, or names that start with the same letter. Why? Because it gets confusing. For example, Janie and Jamie. It might work for some readers, but not with others, and you want people to read your book without getting confused, right?
  • If you want to give your character an exotic name that is unusual and is hard to pronounce, consider the possibility of an audio book and how it will sound when narrated. Read it out loud; ask yourself, can someone else pronounce it so?
  • Beware if you give a character a name that can cross gender. Imagine meeting Sam, who has this mischievous personality with a cunning mind and hot temper and bond with him at once. Then realize at the end of the chapter that Sam is short for Samantha. Isn’t that annoying? Make sure the readers know that Sam is short for ‘Samantha’ or ‘Samuel”. Try mentioning the full name first, or in the following sentence.

Some writers swear they got lucky and met their characters in la-la land and were introduced to them in a dream. Some encourage you to go to sleep thinking about your characters so that if you are lucky, you can meet your main character there.

However, if the character is a stubborn, arrogant dude who refuses to tell you his name, what can you possibly do? Would you beat him bloody?

“What’s your name?” POW! “What’s your name?” POW!

See what I mean?

So, considering the fact there isn’t a guidebook with a formula for naming your characters that you can reference from, stick to common sense, that’s the best advice you’ll get.


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Jina was born in a small town in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she had a fulfilling childhood. Soon after she graduated from high school, she was diagnosed with a chronic disease that eventually caused her to go blind. Currently she lives in the middle east with her mother and three kids.

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