Writing talk: character names

If you talk to a group of twelve writers, you will likely hear twelve different thoughts about the process of naming characters, ranging from "I hate it!" to "It's my favorite part of writing!" to "I have a file I've been saving for years of all my favorite names..."

Unless you're that last person, though, chances are that you are going to end up like a lot of us in the middle of this problem: sometimes naming a character is easy and happens before the story begins, while other times you struggle and struggle to come up with a suitable name that captures, at least for you, the essence of who the character is or who he or she will become.

If you have the name right from the beginning, that's great--unless you just happen to read that a bestselling novel or a hit TV show in your genre has just made headlines, and a main character who isn't entirely unlike yours has the exact same name. You might not have to change the name anyway (though you might want to check copyright laws if you're unsure), but you will have to accept that everyone will think you named your character in honor or in imitation of the more well-known character, which can be annoying if you did no such thing.

Changing a name you already like isn't easy, but coming up with a name when you are drawing a blank can be even worse. You can see this character in your mind's eye; you have heard her brittle laugh or watched him make his way nervously across a room, but you can't quite come up with a name that fits. All the names you try seem dull, uninteresting, or wildly inappropriate--and yet the story can't move forward until you select a name.

Some writers will use placeholder names. I think this is a good idea if the search for the right name is interfering too much with your progress. Sooner or later, though, the character will need a name, and you will need to go someplace to find one.

Two of my favorite websites for naming purposes are Behind the Name and Fantasy Name Generator. The first, which is more of a straightforward name site, contains good information about the name's origins and meaning, has plenty of variations of common names, offers surnames as well, and has a fun Random Renamer page which can be especially useful if you just need a quick name for a side character. The Fantasy Name Generator site is an incredible resource for everything from character and place names to location names, planet names, ship names, star names, and so on. There are sections of this site that are more geared for role-players, cosplay, and fan fiction--the author of original fiction will want to stay away from those areas for the most part (though they might be helpful if your character has an obsession with a real-life TV show or video game).

In addition to these two sites there are many other character naming sites ranging from baby name registries to sites designed to help historical fiction writers choose realistic-sounding names for the era in which their story is set.

One final thing that can help is this: ask your friends in real life and on social media for advice! People are more than willing to weigh in and discuss their favorite names as well as names they strongly dislike, and this input can be very helpful to a writer who is stuck looking for that perfect name.

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