A name can play a big part in defining a person. At least in the mind of someone hearing the name for the first time. Female names like Betty, Martha, and Mildred may make you think of an older woman like your grandmother. Names like George and Elizabeth may make you think of kings and queens from hundreds of years ago.
Then there are names like Joy that may naturally make you think she is always a happy woman, or a name like Luke that will make you picture a moisture farmer with a lightsaber in his hand.
Our names are a part of us, and the same holds true for your character’s names. The names you choose can determine how your readers perceive your character, and you want to make sure your readers get the right idea. You do not want your readers to be disappointed to learn—after purchasing your book—that a character named Pocahontas is not an Indian who helps maintain peace between her people and the English.
So, how do you make sure your readers get the right idea? And how do you even begin to think about which name to choose when there are so many? There are four different ways that you can narrow down your options and choose the right names.
1. By Genre
Just like genres have specific story plots, settings, and other items that set them apart, character names can also be genre specific. The fantasy genre is likely to have unusual or created names that fit the created world around them. Western novels are going to have character names typical for cowboys, and YA novels are going to have names common among today’s teens.
While there is no rule that states your character’s name must match the genre, it’s a great place to start and something worth considering. Generally, this is the best way to go. Names that fit the genre are what readers expect, and it helps them get immersed in the story.
2. By Time Period
This goes along with naming your characters by genre. You aren’t likely to find a twelve-year-old boy named Henderson in the 1950s, so giving your character that name could hinder the believability of your novel. Also, when you give a character a name outside of the time period you’re writing in, the name could stick out too much against your book’s setting.
A quick search on Google or a baby name website will give you information about a name’s current popularity ranking as well as the rising and falling popularity it has had over the last couple hundred years.
On the flip side, if you’re writing a book set in the 21st century and want to give your sixteen-year-old heroine a name that fits her “old soul” personality, you could give her an “older” name like Margaret or Betsy.
Whether or not you pick a name from your time period or not comes down to what sort of character you’re creating and what sort of effect you want to have. Do you want your character to fit and blend in with the time and setting, or is your character more likely to stick out?
3. By Name Meaning
This is my personal favorite because I think it's fun and fascinating to learn what people’s names mean. I most often use this method first when trying to name a character. If I can find a name I like with a meaning that describes the character in some way, I will use it.
For example, when coming up with names for my series The Kingdom Chronicles, I used this method while also keeping in mind that I was writing in the Medieval time period. For one of my main characters/antagonists, I decided on the name Mara because it means “bitter,” and this particular character spends the whole series being a bitter and vengeful woman. While my readers may never know trivia like this, it is a way to make this process fun for us.
4. Create Your Own
Creating new names is something most often seen in the Fantasy and Sci-Fi genres. In a story with worlds and creatures also created by the author, it makes sense to craft new character names that will fit the characters’ species and world.
J.R.R. Tolkien did this in The Lord of the Rings while also crafting many names based on their meaning. For example, the names Eowyn and Eomer come from a root word that means “horse.” Tolkien did this because in the land they live in, horses are revered and an essential part of their lives.
You can also create new names based on the meanings of root words, combine the beginning of one name with the end of another, or create something entirely new. You can be really creative with this one, which some people love.
Remember, you’re creating characters that have never existed before! Have fun with this process of discovering what their names are, and make sure you love their names. You’ll be working closely with them for what will probably be an extended length of time. Don’t settled until you find a name that works for your characters.
Have you used any of these methods to name our characters? Share below which method you used and the name you decided on!
Keep writing and editing!