So you’re planning out the next great American novel, and you realize you have no idea what to name half of your characters. Don’t panic! Try one of these methods:
1. Borrow from Another Source
It’s true that you probably don’t want to name one of your characters Severus Snape or Jane Eyre. There are, however, tons of places to come up with name ideas. Write down any interesting names you might hear at the coffee shop or on a TV show. Make note of cool names you read in books or magazines. Come up with variations on the name or use pieces of one name and mix it with pieces of another.
2. Think About the Cultural Background
You don’t want to be stereotypical here, but you do want to make sure that your characters’ names depict their background. For example, if you have a Russian character with a French-sounding last name, that could get confusing (unless the fact that your character has French and Russian ancestors is important). Look up different names corresponding to the culture your character comes from.
3. Give them Significance to the Story
Don’t go overboard here and name your villain something like “Evil McSneaky” (unless you’re trying to be ironic) but think about who these characters are in the context of the story. For example, in my play, THE SPINS, music is an integral part of the story. I named all of the characters after their favorite musicians, but not in an obvious way. My lead character Lynn has Janis Joplin’s middle name (spelled differently), her brother, Riley, has B.B. King’s lesser known first name, and her boyfriend, Keenan, is named after Tool’s Maynard James Keenan who is usually referred to as Maynard.
4. Random Name Generator
There are tons of name generators online. There is no shame in using these to get ideas for names. Try Behind the Name, Random Name Generator, or Fake Name Generator to get you started.
5. Popular Baby Names
When was your character born? Look up popular baby names during that year.
Write down a list of names as you think of them. You may not even have a story for these characters yet. Add to the list over time, and the next time you need character names, you can pull your list out and play around with some of those names.
7. Use a Combination of Methods
Many of these methods are helpful ways to think of character names, and you may want to use more than one. Perhaps you want to look up popular baby names and popular cultural names for your character. Perhaps you find a name on a random name generator and you want to look up what it means. Perhaps you hear a song that mentions a woman named Jenna, and it sparks something in you. There is no wrong way to go about thinking of character names!
Once you’ve settled on a name, it might be a good idea to run a quick search on the name to make sure there isn’t already some famous actor or musician or athlete with that name. Also, do some research to make sure your character would be named that based on the time period, location, etc. especially if you’re writing historical fiction.