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Character Names, Meanings, and How to Choose Them, For Writers

Spoiler Alert: Character Names Are Important

Before college, I never put much thought into character names. Typically, I would say a couple out loud, then pick the one that seemed to fit the character’s personality the best. However, during college, when I spent a lot of time studying literature, I found that names added some many layers of meaning that I wanted to emulate in my own writing. So, I started researching. With all of this new information and from hours of studying up on things, here is what I have come to use as my tried and true naming method:

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Know the time period

Not every time period has the same names we do today. As time goes on, new sounds and words open up different avenues to create names, not to mention whether or not there is an immigration boom or something else influencing that time period. Depending on the time period, names can be completely different. In the 50’s, my name didn’t exist. There were no “Alyssa”’s to be found, so I wouldn’t use that name if my book was set in the 50’s.

Know the area

Unless you’re writing in a time period where immigration is booming, chances are good there aren’t going to be many American names in Germany, unless your character is a traveler or an immigrant themselves. Some names have traveled across to other countries, but may have different spellings, so be aware of that. Make sure you spell it correctly, and make sure it is a name you can remember to spell correctly consistently.

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Take note of gender

In some countries there are different spellings of the same name to signify a specific gender. Be aware of these facts. Make sure to do your homework and study up on the origins and ways the name is used. Time period and location play a huge role in this.

Check the meanings of the firstname and surname

If your project revolves around a family, I would recommend the surname be something representative of the entire family, then choose names to represent every other character in the family. I wouldn’t pick a surname that only represents one member of the family. I usually pick very vague and over-arching names, just to make sure I include everyone in the meaning. Not necessary, but I recommend it. Regardless, if your character is going to have a known last name, make sure you pick one that means something.

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Say the entire name out loud

The way your character’s name sounds might be more important than its meaning. Sure, Kate-Moss McDonald might be a great name for a character who aspires to be a model, but is crippled by her addiction to McDonald’s cheeseburgers, but does it really sound like a name? Of course, not every name has to be immediately recognizable, but it should at least be a reasonable name. Otherwise, you may confuse your audience.

Once you’ve checked everything out and you are pleased with everything, slap that name on your character and get back to writing. Of course, there are no rules in naming your characters. They are your characters. Name them whatever you want. Either way, I hope you found something useful from this list.

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Do you have another way of making sure you pick the perfect character name? Please, comment below and let me know. For more posts on character development, click the links below:

6 Tips and Tricks for Strong Character Development

6 Ways to Make Your Characters Pack an Emotional Punch

Realistic Characters and Why Writers Should Spend Time Socializing

Thanks for reading!

Lissy

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3 thoughts on “Character Names, Meanings, and How to Choose Them, For Writers

  1. Names are so hard. The best one I’ve come up with is Abraham Higbee. Got the last name from my family tree. Fit my character and story perfectly.

    1. I like the personal touch in it. I think it connects you better to the work. 🙂 Plus, it’s memorable, without sounding overly exotic or strange.

  2. Character’s names are very important. You can only read about “Bob or John” so much. I would have to say it depends heavily what I am writing about. My current WIP the I change the main character’s name twice.

    When developing a new character, I go to a baby name sites. I look for names with good meanings behind them that will fit the setting or personality I see in the character. They usually list the most popular names, thus far for the year. I try to stay away from the popular names and revive a unique name or less popular name.

    Sometimes, I may use names with those I meet when I am out and about. Those are for the minor characters usually.

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