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Coming Up with Character Names

There was a time when I owned an extensive collection of baby name books. Coming up with character names was a time-consuming process. Now I use random name generator websites, which has sped up the process considerably.

For incidental characters, where I might just need a first or last name, I’ll generate 10 or 25 and pick one that feels right. With main characters I will do the same, write down a few that strike me, then generate a few more. Within a few minutes there will be something that I’m satisfied with.

On rare occasions I will want a name that means something specific. That’s where I’ll do more research. When I had the baby name books this was my default process, which is why it took so long. At some point I realized that I was trying to be “deep” and ridiculously pretentious and stopped.

My wife tends to have true crime shows on in the background while she works. She keeps a notebook next to her and writes down the names of the people in the shows. Not the killers, usually, but victims, investigators, witness, and so on. Then she mixes up first and last names, usually across shows.

My final stop is usually Google. I check names to make sure that some famous person I never heard of doesn’t have the name. There’s nothing worse than discovering you’ve picked a first name-last name combination that already belongs to some violent criminal or, even worse, a politician.

Coming Up with Character Names

Okay reader, how do you name your characters? You don’t have to be a participant in The Merry Writer game to play along here!

The Merry Writer is a writer’s game on Twitter run by Ari Meghlen (@arimeghlen) and Rachel Poli (@RPoli3). Each day there’s a new question, and each month there’s a new theme. In these posts I expand upon the answers that I’ve posted on my Twitter.

One reply on “Coming Up with Character Names”

Usually I come up with names at random, just whatever sounds right at the time… but one time I was writing an adventure for Spycraft and my students got wind of it and asked what the plot was about, so I told them it concerned a terrorist attack on a nuclear power station. They promptly asked if they could be the NPC terrorists! It made for a rather motley crew, and steered it more into being a criminal gang rather the actual terrorists due to their ethnic diversity.

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