The naming game . . .


My writing has hit a wall! One made out of colorful Post-its, carefully pinned to the corkboard above my desk. I’m at that point in the story where it doesn’t feel right to continue calling the characters by generic names. That worked in the beginning for practicality and momentum. Not now.

This became painfully obvious when I introduced my lead character’s sidekick. Dialogue was stifled and lacking. Liveliness missing. He needed to be named, like all things created.

From this fantasy story’s conception, he’s been called simply, “Red Man.” It’s a literal observation. Similarly, other characters had/have temporary names, e.g. Yoda-like dude (short, wise, and speaks his mind). So, I pulled out the baby-naming books and my overflowing “naming” file—full of scraps scribbled with cool-ish names that I’ve come across. I find them everywhere: books, magazines, movies, the shoe boxes at Kohl’s, name tags of service workers, and even the yearly unclaimed money/property register. I do, however, draw the line at searching the obituaries. (That’s actually a story idea in the making, hmmm . . .)

But nada. Again, I’m at a standstill. I need the perfect name and it eludes me. A solid and strong name, perhaps one from long ago that can be resurrected and recycled.

I’d love to hear from other writers! What is your character-naming process? I’m especially curious how fantasy and/or other uncommon world genre writers come up with character names.



5 thoughts on “The naming game . . .

  1. I usually have to have a name before I get too far, otherwise, they take on the temporary name I’ve given them and I can’t imagine anything else. I usually search names on the web based on ethnicity, time period, name meanings etc. Whatever feels right, I go with. As far as solid and traditional, you could search popular names of the 1920s–a lot of those names are coming back into style, like Henry, George, Alexander, Edward…..

  2. I often name characters after everyday objects I see around me. For instance, if you are standing in your kitchen, take a look at the names on the boxes around you. Even if ‘Kelloggs’ isn’t an ideal name, it could be a nickname or a code-name in another work. As many products are names after their inventor, they’re real and usable. A novella character was names Emerson Brother. Emerson was a name on a box and Brother was a way to have many jokes made about the character (you can imagine the mileage…) When you are reading blogs, pay attention to the commenter’s names – and mix them up a bit.
    If that doesn’t inspire, watch newsreaders (Polly Toynbee is a BBC newsreader and I adopted her name for myself) and TV celebs.
    If that fails, there’s always the phone book. 🙂
    Hope this helps.

    • Thanks, Andrew! I’ve actually “found” names in the manor you’ve described. I remember riding to the beach with my family and writing, looked out the window and saw a Honeywell factory, and Ta-da…Jessica Honeywell was invented. She was later deleted from the story, but I still love the name. 😉

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