Faye Arcand, How to Make Your Writing Better, My Twisted Writer Brain…, Word Choices in Writing

Five Easy and Unique Ways to Name Your Characters

What’s in a name? An age-old question with far reaching ramifications.

Imagine if Harry Potter were Brutus Bragor… or Atticus Finch were Johnny Weasel… would the literary pieces have been as successful? Hmmm…Who knows? A writer gets one chance to name and introduce his characters and he wants to get it right the first time.

Sometimes we want a different name to reflect on the traits of the character but struggle to still be realistic and unique at the same time.

Here are five ways to assist you in coming up with different ways to find new names. Have fun.

Five Ways To Find Names for Your Characters

FIRST: the tried and true way to find names is with a search for popular names of a determined year.

If your character is a teen in the 1970’s for example you’d find the top names are Jennifer and Michael. Pretty boring and mundane if you ask me but it depends on what you want. To me, the names are unmemorable and would be characters I killed off in the third chapter (my personal apologies to every Jennifer and Michael that I know)

Sometimes if I just need any name I’ll say–ok, I’ll choose #67 of the top 100 which in this case for 1970 the list says Jeffery and Robin. A bit better but still Yawnnnn…….

Let’s look elsewhere…

SECOND: Look to the stars…Here’s the names of the stars in the Big Dipper.

AlkaidMizar-Alcor, AliothMegrezPhecdaMerak and Dubhe

Now these are some interesting letter combinations. Play with them and see what you come up with.

I’d maybe switch them up a bit and use Miza or Marek (this sounds strong and masculine to me) Alkayd (different, unique…I like it.)

There are many stars to chose from like Acrux and Lyra–make them your own or assign them to a character to add to their character.

THIRD: Look to the other stars…Celebrities

If you’re looking for instant recognition then borrow a name and make it your own. For example. If you gave a character the name Oprah Hemmingway. I’d immediately have an image in my mind and if the author uses that name to build up the reasons those names were given, then it may lead to some interesting character studies.

Let’s say if you used the name Thomasina Cruismen. You’ve manipulated the name. Is the character anything like Tom Cruise?

Use common sense though. If the character is going to be painted in a negative or derogatory light I would steer far away from naming them after anyone real. You can have fun with names but you need to be respectful to avoid conflict (I don’t know what the rules on trademarking names is but many celeb names are also brands and if you’re mocking or knocking a brand–well, better to avoid it I would think.)…

So moving on.

FOURTH: Look to other languages.

This is one of my favorite ways to find names. It’s unique and imaginative.

The word for death in French is mort/in Latin it is mortem/German das Sterben or fatality der Todesfall/Spanish: muerta

So if I had a character who was a doctor who killed people I may call him…

…Mortimer D. Sterben–I think would be a good killer name.

Do you see what I’ve done? I taken the foreign word and manipulated it into an English name.

The word for awkward or clumsy in French is maladroit so if a character were a bumbling idiot: I may call him Al Droit or Mal Roit

Or if you hear “mon dieu” in French it is an exclamation of “My God!” So if I had a character who was exasperating I may use the name Mrs. Mondew. The spelling is changed away from the foreign but the sound (and inferred meaning) is still there.

You can use any language or combination of languages that you want. There are no rules. To me it’s fun to manipulate a foreign word meaning into the character names and traits. Some may see or recognize the similarities but most will not–they’ll just simply see a unique name.

FIFTH: Look to the earth and it’s inhabitants.

Take your favorite animal, reptile, or bird and personify it.

Courgar could be Cougra or Cogar or Courina or Koograh

Wolf could be Woolf or Howler

Anna Konda aka anaconda the snake or Coral Hebi (which is Coral snake…’coral’ being a female name and hebi is the Japanese word for snake.)

The earth: think gems, minerals or rocks: (This is from a list of hundreds of rocks and minerals listed on Wikipedia.org)

  • Obsidian-Great name. Sounds and feels strong.
  • Igneous–could switch up to Ingneo or Ingo–play with the letter placements and sounds.
  • Mica–already there.
  • Quartz–sexy. How about Quarz?
  • Alarsite–could stand alone or Alar or Alarsi? I like that one too.
  • Coltan
  • Heliodor–how about Helio? or Heldora? or Lidor?
  • Minyulite–Minul or Yuli or Inyu
  • Sapphirine–Sapphi or Hiri or Saphire
  • Zircon–I like that as a stand alone or Zirk/Zirc
  • Don’t forget the gems: Garnet, Ruby, Pearl, Turquoise, Perry O’dot (Peridot), Tannza Knight (for Tanzanite) Add an ah to the end to soften it or combine two together. Go have fun.

There are so many options all you have to do is play with the sounds. Keep in mind that readers are smart but they don’t want to be tripping over the name of a character. It’s okay to be unique and clever but don’t go so out in left field where pronunciation or understanding is thrown off.

4 thoughts on “Five Easy and Unique Ways to Name Your Characters”

  1. You left out using a baby names book. That’s my go to resource for names. It’s filled with alternative spellings and nicknames and other permutations of each name, plus it gives the origins and meanings of names.

    1. Yes! That’s another favorite of mine. Like my name can be Faye, Fay, Fae, Fe…so many variations. That’s a really good resource too. Thanks for the reminder Denise. 🙂

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