"Is This A Good Name For My Character?"

How To Pick Good Names For Your Characters!

A lot of people ask whether certain names would be good fits for their characters. In many cases, what would constitute a "good" name is subjective and/or depends on the story's context, so this is rarely as simple a question as it looks. But that said, there are a few rules that apply more or less universally that can help you choose fairly good names for your characters, and once you learn them it's fairly easy to pick out decent names for yourself. Mainly, it all comes down to asking yourself the right questions. So let's get started!

Would your character's parents or caregivers have a good reason for choosing your character's personal name? Real people tend to give children fairly conventional names per their cultures for multiple reasons. First, giving a child a conventional name can be a way of reaffirming kinship with the rest of the parents' or caregivers' culture or values, or as an expression of allegiance to the group the parents/caregivers belong to. Secondly, parents might choose something fairly ordinary out of concern that an unusual name would invite teasing. Third, unfamiliar names are more likely to just sound off to people trying to find a good name.

If your character's parents/caregivers are going to pick an unusual name, you need to ask yourself how they heard of it in the first place and why they chose to give to to their child - and for a name that would be extremely unusual to their ears, "they just liked the way it sounded" really isn't going to cut it.

Some potential reasons for giving a character an unusual name is that the person or persons doing the naming associate it with something positive. Maybe it was the name of a good friend (though, that raises the question of why the friend had the name - you'll need to answer that one for yourself). Maybe it's the name of a fictional character in a show the parents really liked (popular fiction has long been an influential factor in names). Maybe it's the name of someone or something the parents think really highly of. (And if so, why?)

Maybe they belong to a countercultural movement that frequently gives children unusual names to set them apart from the rest of society. (Which itself raises a lot of questions - how did the parents join this movement? Why? What impact did growing up with parents in this movement have on the child?)

Maybe the parents had a serious case of "I just want my child to have a special name to stand out!" Which again raises questions - what else did the parents do to ensure their little snowflake stood out, and how did the child feel about it?

In any case, you need to figure out why your character's parents or caregivers would choose an unusual name, what the larger implications of these reasons would be, and how they might ultimately affect the environment your character would grow up in.

Is there a logical in-story reason for your character to have that surname? Unlike given names, surnames are not chosen at the parents' whims, and so unless someone somewhere assumed another name, it probably pertains to one's heritage. If you see a surname that strikes your fancy, you might want to look it up to make sure that there's a good reason your character might have it - is it found among people of your character's ethnicity or ancestry? If not, are you perhaps willing to change your character's ethnicity or ancestry to match? (EG, if a surname turns out to be Indian, are you willing to make your character Indian or of Indian descent?)

Does the name contain obvious spoilers or hints about what your character is/does/becomes that whoever gave the name could not have foreseen? For example, a girl who eventually gains the power to control fire being named "Phoenix," a person who can control weather being named "Rayne," or a guy who ends up working with dragons being named "Drake." Younger audiences might find this kind of thing interesting and entertaining, but older ones are more likely to find it improbable and silly, so think carefully before going this route.

Will the name create the impression you want? A poorly-chosen name can give people the wrong impression about a character, if not make it difficult for them to take the entire story seriously - so think carefully about the impression your name might make.

If you want a character whom people will take seriously right off the bat, "Wifflebump Toddlepops" might not be the best name choice - especially in a world where most other characters have names that sound more dignified.

Names like "Harry Bottomfield" or "Mary Rich" will almost certainly elicit a mix of giggles and groans from your audience - you probably wouldn't want to give these names to the protagonists of a work you intend to have a highly serious tone!

In a setting where everyone has fairly commonplace names like Keith, Taylor, Judy, etc., something like "Aurora Seraphina" might come off as a bit pretentious, particularly if there's no good in-story reason why Aurora Seraphina would be named thus. So when considering names, think about the impressions they might give people, and whether they're the impressions you want people to have.

Will the correct pronunciation be intuitive to most of your readers? Names that are easy for readers to guess the correct pronunciation are preferable to ones that are difficult. "Katniss" is a good name in this regard - although it's unusual, it's not at all hard to figure out how to pronounce it correctly.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course - such as if your character is from a real-life country where the local names aren't the most intuitive to your target audience. But otherwise, try to choose names with fairly obvious pronunciations.

Is it slightly-to-very unusual and shared by a person or character who is currently well-known in pop culture? If so, you may want to reconsider using it, particularly if your work is in the same genre and/or is intended for the same target audience as the pop culture work - people will think of the more popular person or character when they see your character's name - EG, if you name your character "Elsa," the first thing people will think of is Elsa from Frozen, which will distract them from your character and your story.

Do most of your characters have names shared by people or characters who are currently well-known? It's one thing if a few of your characters share relatively common names with other people and characters, but if your cast's name comes almost entirely from popular people and characters, it's going to be noticeable and distracting. Make sure you look outside of pop culture for some of your characters' names!

And lastly, some advice for those trying to pick out meaningful names! It can be fun to give your character a meaningful name, but when you go out scrounging baby name sites trying to find something, there are some things you should be aware of first.

First, unless your character is supposed to have a weird name, it still needs to make sense per the character's background and not stick out like a sore thumb among the rest of the cast. If you can't find something that fits, you're better off forgoing trying to find a meaningful name.

Secondly, name "meanings" aren't always the literal meanings of the name itself. For example, if you see something like "Name Meaning: Famous Warrior," it probably doesn't mean that the name literally means "famous warrior," but instead is the name of a famous warrior. The same goes for meanings like "sea god," "ancient queen," "holy river," and so on.

Finally, the Kabalarian Philosophy website does not give you actual name meanings. The "meanings" there are derived from a form of numerology, not from etymology or linguistics.

Also, you might be interested in:

"I Need Help Naming My Character!" - What To Do When You Don't Know What To Name Your Character
Names of THE FUTURE!!!
Tricks & Tips For Creating Fantasy, Sci-Fi, & Other SF Names
Random Name Generators
Social Security's name database (offsite)
"Is This A Good Idea For My Story/Setting/Character?" - How To Answer This For Yourself!

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