What’s in a Name? How to Pick Great Names for Your Characters

Some of you are lucky enough to know the names of your characters when you first begin writing a story. But if you’re like me, then you utilize abbreviations like MC (main character) or BG (bad guy) before you buckle down and pick a name. But what name should you use? And are the names you pick really important? Well let me ask you this, would you rather read about Katniss Everdeen fighting in the Hunger Games or Mary Smith? If you struggle at picking out character names, then here are some tips and tricks I’ve used before.

What's in a name-picking names for characters

The List

I have a list of names that I can use for characters (or for future children I might have). They are simply names I’ve heard throughout the years and liked. If you have a list on hand, then you can skim through it until you stumble on the name that perfectly matches your new character.

Avoid Similar Names

If you have ever talked about The Lord of the Rings trilogy with others, then you may have noticed the emphasis you place on certain syllables of the names Saur-ON and Sar-U-man. As much as I like J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, I wish he had given the two villains less similar names. Don’t make the same mistake. It can get confusing for readers who are plowing though your novel if they keep getting Dan, Dani, Daniel, and Daniella mixed up.


If your book is based in a different time period, place, or culture, then research is necessary. I am writing a steampunk mystery right now that is set in an alternate Victorian England, and I did my fair share of research with Victorian baby names in the early stages of my novel. It’s actually quite nice because whenever a new character shows up in my story, I have a list of Victorian names ready to pick from.

Avoid Overused Names

Sometimes names like Mary, John, Ann, Richard, Brittany, and others are good picks for your story. However, most of us have heard these names a million times and are quite tired of them. Try something fresh and original that readers will actually remember.


One of the most important things a good name should do is reflect your character’s personality. Do you ever see people and think, “He looks like a Tony,” or “She talks like a Kelly”? Your character’s name can have the same effect. Try googling feisty baby names for your gung-ho protagonist or smart baby names for your genius heroine. Or if you want to go for a humorous effect, then pick a name that is dissimilar to your character. Imagine a large, leather-wearing, tattooed biker named Elmer or Bobby.

Do you have any other tips for picking out great names for your characters? If so, then share them in the comments below, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

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