Made in America

How to Name Characters for Short Stories and Novels

Imagine: you have an idea for a novel or short story. You have mapped out your plot, and sketched out the world your characters will be living in. You have all of the details, except for one important thing – your characters’ names! If you are stumped trying to think of character names, here are some ways you can go about naming fictional characters. 


Name meaning

You can name your characters by choosing names that align with their character traits. Most first names and last names have a meaning that has carried on throughout time. Use the internet to search for name meanings. You can look up the meanings of names you already know, or search for names that mean a certain thing. Behind the Name is a leading site for first name meaning, as well as Behind the Name also has a section dedicated to last name (or surname) meanings. 


Personal connections

Honor family members or friends by naming characters after real life loved ones. However, use first names only – it’s unwise to give out personal identifiers for a story the public will read. 


Random generator

You may have no ideas for a character name, or be completely fine with letting a random name generator decide for you. An online random name generator can be a great solution when you want to come up with something totally fresh and new for your characters’ names. Random Name Generator will generate first and last names according to parameters you set. The random name generator from Behind The Name will generate first names, last names, and middle names in a wide variety of categories. 

Ethnicity and Nationality

Similar to searching by name meanings, you can search names by country of origin and ethnic group to find ones that fit your characters. 


Historical Context/Age

If you have a good idea about what time period your characters are living in, you can look through a list of popular baby names for the year they were born. For example, if your character is 50 years old, search for popular names from 1973. 


Maybe your story takes place in a different time period than the present. There are also records of names that were popular in bygone historical eras. You can find an Ancient Roman name, or perhaps a  medieval name for your story set in the Middle Ages (500-1500)! Behind the Name remains the most comprehensive site for these types of searches. 


Bottom line

At the end of the day, character names are important to your fictional novel. They help create meaning and create the character’s identity. They help brand your book as uniquely yours. And who knows – someday they may even become famous!

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