How to Come Up with Character Names

Websites for name generation and tips for finding the best fit for your character.

Naming your characters, especially your protagonist has a significant, final feel. You want to make sure you pick a name that is easy to pronounce, doesn’t conflict with other character names within the same story, makes sense for the time period and age of your character, and consider picking a name significant to your character’s role in the story or characteristics. You can use baby name books, character name generators, and other tools to help you find a name that fits. Google is your friend when it comes to naming characters!

What to Consider When Deciding on a Name

Maybe you’re stuck between two character names (or a list of 30). If you’ve already narrowed down your search to a few options, you’ll want to run through this list of do’s and don’ts to avoid making a character naming faux pas.

Character Naming Do’s

  • Pick a name logical for your story’s era
  • Pick a name to match your character’s behavior
  • Avoid having multiple characters whose names start with the same letter
  • Add flavor and backstory with a prefix or suffix

Character Naming Don’ts

  • Try not to use names already associated with famous individuals (let your character shine)
  • Avoid using names of people you know in real life
  • Don’t ignore age when picking a name

Where to Find Character Name Inspiration

Baby Name Books

Baby name books and baby name websites are a goldmine of character names. You can find a number of them just by typing ‘baby names’ into Google. Most give the option to sort by male, female, and gender-neutral names. You’ll be able to see variations in spelling, pronunciation, and origin. Plus, most sites will break down the meaning or meanings associated with the name and any historical or cultural significance the name has.

A few baby name sites to check out include:

Online Generators

If you’re creating a completely new world while writing a sci-fi or fantasy piece, you’ll want to locate generators aimed at helping invent new, unique-sounding words. An alien from a galaxy (far, far) away likely isn’t gonna be named Bob. Just saying. Here are a few online generators I’ve found success with over the years:

Google Search

The key here is to start with the desired meaning. “Baby girl names meaning warrior” or “baby boy names meaning gentle” are great ways to get yourself started toward naming your budding character. In fact, expectant parents of the non-fictional variety use this method as well to infuse a specific meaning into their child’s name.

My Go-To Character Naming Resources

We all develop our favorite must-use resources when it comes to plotting and planning our next story. Here are my personal favorites:

Social Security Administration

celtx screenshot of system
This is a great way to find popular names by state and decade to ensure historical accuracy. For example, in 1900 Elizabeth was a pretty popular name but it’s doubtful your character from 1901 was rockin’ the name Destiny or Leah (both popular 2010 names).

Behind the Name (Surnames)

behind the name website screenshot

Last names and me, we don’t get along. I’ll often stumble upon a point when I need a last name for my character and throw in ‘Adams’ or ‘Smith’ as placeholders because the thought of tracking down a suitable surname seems like the biggest hassle ever. Behind the Names’ surname subdomain makes it easy to access lists of surnames and their meanings and history.

Surnames are tricky because not only do you need them to match your chosen first name, you also need them to make geographical and historical sense. Where is your character from and what is their family lineage? A last name can tell a lot about a character so you want to make sure it fits.

Behind the Name also has its main site used for first names which is another useful asset to have in your author toolkit.

Don’t see your favorite, go-to resource? Reach out to me using my contact form to have yours included. Happy character naming!

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