Sunday, September 16, 2018

5 Things to Consider When Naming Your Characters

Edie here. Today I'm super excited to introduce guest blogger, Erica Vetsch. She and several other writers (including our own Ane Mulligan) have just written an amazing book on writing, Writing from the Trenches. Be sure to give Erica a warm welcome and check out this newest book on writing. 

5 Things to Consider When Naming Your Characters
by Erica Vetsch @EricaVetsch

Do you struggle to find just the right name for your fictional characters? It can be a challenge, for sure. Sometimes a character springs into your head with all their quirks and abilities and facial features and with their name solidly in place. Other times, you’re piecing together a character through discovery, asking, coaxing, sometimes begging them to reveal themselves, their personality, and their name.

However you create your characters, naming them can be tricky. Here are the things to consider when it comes to putting a moniker on your hero or heroine.

5 Things About Naming Characters

1. Consider the time period and ethnicity. If you write historical fiction, you probably don’t want to name your heroine Skylar or your hero Jayden. Those names might be trendy now (or 10 years ago) but they won’t play well in 1875. Census records are a good resource, but remember to check the census records for the time when your character would’ve been bornrather than when the story takes place. Trends change. Is your character Scots or Norwegian or Arabic? Search for gender and origin specific names popular at the time.

2. Consider your character’s personality. I was recently working on a story set during the 1930’s in St. Paul, MN. My heroine’s name was Nell, a perfectly acceptable name for the time. But…as I struggled to get to know her, I couldn’t seem to pin down anything that made her a unique and interesting character. Then I changed her name to Ruby—another great period name. Suddenly, she sparked to life, becoming bolder, with more depth and personality. A small thing, but it made such a difference. 

3. Consider the dangers of alliteration. In my first book series proposal, I had three brothers, Nicholas, Nathan, and Noah Kennabrae. However, the editor pointed out that this would confuse readers (especially those who read quickly) because all the names started with the same letter. And when they were shortened to Nick, Nate, and Noah, they were all the same length. Too many characters that all have names that start the same will not befriend you to readers. If you want characters’ names to be linked, consider some other commonality, such as giving them all Biblical names (which are almost always period appropriate, since most have stood the test of time. There have been Davids and Pauls and Timothys for centuries.) In the Seven Brides for Seven Texans collection (Barbour 2016) all the heroes are named for famous Texans (Austin, Houston, Bowie, Hayes, etc.) 

4. Consider Googling the name first. Whatever name you choose, run it through Google before you set your heart on it. You don’t want to choose a name, write the entire story, and then find out that it’s also the name of the latest Star Trek hero, or that your character shares the same name as a famous serial killer or porn star. Yeah. 

5. Consider the wisdom of naming a character after someone you know. It might be fun to think about naming a character after your grandma or your best friend, but there are some pitfalls that can arise. The recipient might be flattered, or they might not. They might expect the character to be exactlylike them, and when she/he isn’t, they might not be pleased. Others who know that person might wonder if you’ve patterned the character after their namesake. Do they have the same flaws? Do they really act like that/think like that in private? Just be aware of the dangers that can lurk and the explanations that might be called for if you name a character after someone you know.

There are lots of places to find names listed. As mentioned, there are census records, and there are also baby name lists galore online. You can search by gender, by time period, and by ethnicity. Sports rosters, movie credits, old newspapers, history books, are all great places to find lists of names. Get creative. If you hear a great name, write it down and keep it in a file for possible future use.

Naming characters can be fun, especially if you take into account these few tips. 


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Sigh-Worthy Heroes
The Right Heroine for the Job
Hooking Your Reader in the First Chapter
Scene Endings to Lead Your Readers On
Creating a Movie Set
Making your Readers Cry
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Best-selling, award-winning author Erica Vetsch loves Jesus, history, romance, and sports. She’s a transplanted Kansan now living in Minnesota, and she married her total opposite and soul mate! When she’s not writing fiction, she’s planning her next trip to a history museum and cheering on her Kansas Jayhawks and New Zealand All Blacks. You can connect with her at her website, where you can read about her books and sign up for her newsletter, and you can find her online at where she spends way too much time!


  1. Great advice, Erica!
    By the way, I need to get my hands on "Writing from the Trenches".

    1. Glad you enjoyed the post. I hope you like Writing from the Trenches!

  2. Replies
    1. It is lots of fun naming characters. When you have a few books under your belt, you have to keep lists of names you've already used! :)