If you’re like me, your characters go one of two ways: they either come with a name, or you spend hours or sometimes days trying to find them names. A name is–usually–only one or two words, but sometimes it can be the hardest one or two words you’ll ever right. Names come with enormous pressure: you have to pick something pronounceable, something that’s culturally appropriate, and something that suits your character. Since I’ve struggled with this many times myself–and am currently trying to select a name for the main male character in my Nano 2012–today I decided to share some methods for finding names.
The first thing you should try is a basic mindmap. Put “names” in the center and brainstorm as many names that are phonetically similar to the name of your character’s locale/society as you can. For example, my Nanovel this year is centered around a secret society named the Valshaari who live within the Volthraki tribe. My main female character’s name is Valtessa, and some names I’ve considered for her male counterpart include Morthal, Korvak and Kaltek. These names all use harsh consonants. I did a similar brainstorm for Valtessa, and considered names like Malthi, Kaima and Torcha. These names are a little softer than the boy names, but still fit within the culture. I decided from these options that Valtessa best suited my character.
If you aren’t satisfied with any of the names you thought up during your brainstorm, there are plenty of other ways to find names. You could consult a baby name book or a website like behindthename.com, or try combining already familiar words together in ways that sound cool. I’ve known several writers who used either or both of these methods with great success, and I myself have grabbed many names from Behind the Name. The latter option allows for more creativity, but using a naming website or book gives you a name that already has connotations which you can use to help readers familiarize themselves with your characters.
What if you try all these methods and a random name generator besides and nothing works? Don’t be afraid to use a placeholder name until you can find out the proper name for your character. Sometimes it’s easier to build the character first through exercises and the story itself and to worry about names later–especially when you don’t have a lot of time, like this Nanowrimo season. Try writing a couple scenes from their PoV and see what happens. You might even want to have another character describe them. Eventually you should stumble upon a name you like.
This weekend, try to find proper names for as many of your characters as possible. Whether or not you do, stop by Monday and we’ll talk a bit about worldbuilding.
How do you create character names?