Naming your main character is one of the most important things you can do, but figuring it out can be hard. Trust me, when I come up with a new idea for a story, I probably spend three days asking people to throw out names for characters. I know that when I find that name, I’ll know that I’ve found that name.
But finding that name is hard. Trust me, I’ve struggled with naming character my whole entire writing career. In fact, this post is partly inspired because I’m struggling with a name for a character in the sequel. Because of this, today, I bring you 11 tips for crafting that perfect name for your main character.
1. Make a List: First, you should make a list of virtually every name you could ever think of that you like. In fact, I need to do this. If you have a list of every name, you’ll be able to come back to it later on for other ideas. The only thing I’d keep off of it are names you think you’d like to name your kids. If you’ve already named all your children, this doesn’t apply to you. I just know, personally, I have names I’d love to name my actual flesh and blood (or adopted) children, so I won’t name main characters these names.
2. Think About Trends in Your Book/Time Frame: When does your story take place? Names go in and out with trends, and for the most part, you want to stick with the trends for the time frame. For instance, you aren’t going to find many girls from the 1990s named Cecilia (that was my confirmation name, though, and I’m from the 90s, but I chose that name for other reasons). You can check the United States database for popular names for almost any year from 1879 to 2014.
3. Heritage: With that in mind, when you’re crafting your character, does your character have a specific heritage to follow? For instance, if you’re writing a medieval piece where your main character is going to be king someday, there’s a specific heritage with that. Future kings are given a short list of names because these names emulate the greats. While your character may not have a kingdom in his future, there can still be heritage attached to his life, and thus, his name.
4. Expectations: This kind of goes with heritage, but what expectations are expected out of your character? If he is going to be king, you want a name that reflects that. Please don’t name your king “Sprinkles.”
5. If you go unique, have a reason. If you have to name your king “Sprinkles” please have a solid reason for doing so. Remember, this character has to spend the rest of entirety stuck on the page with the name you bestow upon him, so be nice. Unless Sprinkles is taunted for his name and that’s a part of his character development, but beyond that, don’t name your king “Sprinkles,” please.
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6. What about a nickname? For instance, my main character, Cassie, goes by her nickname. Her full name is Cassandra, but I actually decided upon Cassandra being her full name after I landed on Cassie. If you land on a name, think about possible nicknames for this character. Even if you don’t have your character typically go by a nickname, it can be a great thing for another character to use for your MC.
7. Combine Your Ideas. If you have two names you absolutely love, use both of them. People have a middle name, too! Once you have that list of ideas, you can start combining names to find something that sounds right.
8. Make sure it flows. That being said, when you find something that sounds right, make sure it flows. You don’t want people tripping up over your character’s name unless that’s a part of the character development (see #5 for that). Think about your own name, I’m sure there’s a pattern or flow to it, yes? Give your character that, too.
9. The kid test. I talked about this in #1, but if it’s a name you want to give your child later on in life, don’t give it to your character. If you do, your child may never forgive you for the constant comparison you’re inviting upon him. But, when picking a name, make sure it’s a name you would be comfortable naming your child, even if it’s not a top pick. Don’t make it embarrassing.
10. Say it out loud. When you think you’ve landed on a name, say it out loud. Why? Because you have no idea what it sounds like out loud. Cassie’s last name is Dreandry, a name I totally made up. I always imagined that you would say it just as it’s spelled: Drean (like “clean”)-dry. Well, when you say that out loud, it sounds kind of weird, but it’s too late now. Cassie is stuck with it. Don’t be mean to your character like I am to mine.
11. Use a name generator. If you’re really struggling, you can use a name generator. There’s a few online, and Scrivener has one. You never know if it’ll spit out a name that fits, but you never thought of. You could also thumb through a baby name website if that doesn’t work either.
While all of these can help you go through the process of picking a name, the truth is, you’ll only know when you know. Do you have any tips for picking your main character’s name?