Choosing Fictional Names

by Jasmine
(miami, florida)

Question: When trying to write a novel, the thing that gives me the most trouble is picking names. Names of people, names of places, names of ANYTHING. Do you have any advice to help me work through this?


Answer: Sometimes character names don't matter a lot and you can just randomly pick surnames from a phone book and first names from a baby name book. Just make them distinct from each other.

Here are some tips for when the names do matter:

1. When you want the name to say something about the character, you might look more closely at books/websites about baby names, because some will tell you what the traditional meanings of names are. Or you can just choose a name that reminds you of the quality your character embodies.

2. If your character's ethnic origin matters, you can check the ethnic origin of names at these sites too.

3. If you want your characters' names to seem authentic to a period, you can also look up what names were most popular in the year the characters were born.

4. If you're writing about aliens or fantasy characters, you have a tougher problem of having to invent names from scratch, and make them reflect the right culture. Good luck.

As for place names, places are sometimes named for geographical features or events that happened there - in the language of the inhabitants at that time - or famous people (saints, kings, etc.). That can take some research if you are writing about a European village. North American towns are often named after European places (New York), the settlers who founded them, names taken from first nations names (Medicine Hat, Ottawa) or even concepts (Hope).

Again, it's easier if the name of the town doesn't matter. You can look at places on a map of the region your story is set in and invent something similar. If the name does matter, you just have to do a little research until you find a name that fits with the character of the place you are writing about.

If you're completely stuck for a name for something, consider just putting in a place-holder name with the intention of changing it later. Sometime the right name will just come to you after you've written a bit more.

Comments for Choosing Fictional Names

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May 30, 2012
Legalities of Picking Fictional Names
by: Anonymous

I picked a fictional name that I really liked,one that I suspect might be common to a certain degree. Then I found there's a real person with the same name who lives in a different town across the country and, while he's become somewhat famous for what he does for a living, he doesn't have the same type of career as my character. Can I legally use that name for my character?

Aug 07, 2012
Re: famous names
by: Glen

I believe that your character can have the same name as a famous person, so long as it is obviously not intended to be the same person (different occupation, age, etc.), so that there's no obvious attempt to damage the real person's reputation. Names are not unique in the real world, and many famous people share names with non-famous people.

Dead famous people are fair game.

Apr 10, 2013
Fantasy Naming
by: Anonymous

Something you could do with names, especially if the story is fantasy, you can take two names and mash them together. This can be done with words, perhaps qualities that represent the character. One could even take the trait in English, translate it it into a foreign language, and then mash it together with it's translated counterpart.

You could also take a word the character represents and then you can start pulling out random letters in the word, or mix the word around.

Fire horse can become Firho.
Aequitas can become aeta, asui, etc.
Heart and can become Ocea, Arca, Caia, Hedia Cati
Verqu can come about from Veritas and Aequitas being mashed together and the resulting word mixed up.

My strategy is to make sure that what I come up with is easily pronounceable by English speakers. I also try to keep names to a minimum of 3 syllables, 2 syllables are preferred.

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