Four Ways to Name Fictional Characters (Particularly in Fantasy/Sci-Fi)

Character names are vital. They’re often the reader’s first introduction and repeat more than most words in a book. Because a name represents the character in a single word (or a small number of words), it must be a perfect fit.

Names that are easy to pronounce are best for major characters, so the reader doesn’t trip over them.

Even reading in their heads, many people try to pronounce words, and a difficult name can be a serious obstacle. Besides, when they tell their friends about your book, don’t you want them to be able to name some of the important people in it?

With this pressure to get the perfect name, choosing one can be an arduous process. We’ll look at some methods I use for names. This isn’t a comprehensive list; there are plenty of other approaches available. These are simply the ones I find work best for me, with the least hassle.

One consideration, regardless of how you choose names, is to keep names as unique as possible. Starting each name with a different letter is the easiest and most obvious way to do this.

Unique names help the reader distinguish characters in their mind. Imagine a reader confused between two characters because one is Alice and the other is Aliss! That’s a pretty extreme example, but you get the idea.

As always, I’m approaching this topic from a fantasy angle, though these techniques also apply to science fiction and most can, with slight modification, apply to real-world stories. But keep in mind your genre and audience: you don’t want a name as wild as Daenerys Targaryen or Morrolan e’Drien for the real world.

Finally, never stop writing to find a name. Come up with something quickly, and you can change it later. Several of my characters have gone through three or four names as I test them out and see what fits. And sometimes (rarely), the first random name that pops into my head ends up being their final name.

Often, writing with a name will help you realize whether it fits, and writing may help you stumble on a better name with a typo. Always follow the number one rule: keep writing!

Method 1: Name Generator

One of my favorite tools it the Behind the Name random namer tool which allows you to select from various cultures including ancient and mythological names. There are also whimsical and fantasy categories.

Behind the Name works best if you have an idea of which real-world culture has similar names to the character’s fantasy culture. Then again, you can use this tool to find something you like and do world-building for the character’s culture from there.

Even more than matching culture, you can use this website to match meaning. Clicking a generated name takes you to a page with details about the name’s origin and meaning so you can make sure the randomly generated name fits the character. You can even use this as a tool to create new characters based on the name’s meaning.

If you want more name generators, there’s nothing better than to do a Google search for it. Some of my other favorites are and the Reedsy name generator.

Method 2: Give It Meaning

If you have a more specific meaning in mind, you can search Behind the Name by meaning instead of using their random naming tool. Although it’s difficult to find things that are too specific, this can be a better approach if you’re less clear on the character’s culture but have a clear idea of who they are.

Obviously, we don’t all become what our name means in real life. “God is deliverance” doesn’t exactly describe me, for instance. But in a story, it can help to back up a name with meaning as a sort of Easter egg, so when your fans look up the name they say, “Oh yeah! That fits them perfectly.”

Method 3: Mash Up Words (or Names)

Sometimes, a single name doesn’t cut it, and you need to smush a few together to get something that sounds right. That’s a perfectly valid way to get a unique-sounding name.

You can even use normal English words for this. Take a word, or two, or three, and mix them up. Rearrange the letters. Put them together. Cut one in half and sandwich the other between. You’d be surprised how well-hidden these words can be when you’re done.

One worry is that it’s too obvious to use recognizable English words in a name, but you’ll notice much more readily than the reader. How about this name: Brechider. Think about that name for a second.

Okay, done? What words do you think made that name?

I bet you didn’t think “chicken breeder.” And that wasn’t even terribly obfuscated.

Method 4: Foreign Languages

If you want to evoke the feel of a specific culture but can’t find a fitting name on Behind the Name, another option is to use foreign languages to construct a name. The benefit to this is you can use any words you like, and Google Translate can do the work for you.

But be extra careful that you read through alternative meanings for the words, so you don’t end up giving your character’s name an unexpected and unfitting connotation. If you know a native speaker of the target language, you might want to check with them for a more accurate meaning of the name.

Then again, like in method 3, you can mash up words and change them to the point where they’re unrecognizable, even to a native speaker. Remember Brechider? Do something like that with foreign words, and no one will be the wiser, but you’ll have a name that evokes the right sense for your character.

I hope these four methods have been helpful in your search for a strong character name. What other methods do you use for your characters? Ever been surprised by a name you constructed? Share in the comments below!

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Posted by jmclean in Writing, 0 comments