Naming your Darlings

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Bestowing a name on any living thing is a powerful endeavor. As a fiction writer, naming your characters can be a joy or a chore depending on how you go about it. What sources do you use when you label your characters? How much meaning do you imbue? Let’s explore a few ways of finding names. If you have your own system, be sure to share it in the comments at the bottom. 

Regional and Historical Names

It only makes sense to use names that are relevant to your setting or character’s source of ethnic origin. There are countless searches you can do using baby name finders by country to help with this task. When choosing a name for a character I found this extremely helpful especially when I was looking for a name for one of my Irish characters. 

Choosing names with historical significance or strong established literary references is another route to consider.  If you have a strong female character, making a nod to a woman from classic literature can place a subconscious clue into the mind of your readers. Better yet, if your character’s arc aspires to live up to a hallowed name–Éowyn comes to mind–you’re setting the scene for success. 

When naming my mermaids, I tried to find names that were not obvious, like Ariel. Instead, I went on a deep dive into the depths (pardon the puns) of Greek mythology. This is where I found the name of my antagonist, Nomia–named after a nymph of Arcadia. 

Keeping it in the Family

Another fun thing to do is to name a character after someone you care about. In doing so, you immortalize this person forever. I have a cousin who always asks to be included in anything I write. He’s a character himself, the kind of guy who shamelessly swears around children and gives them candy when their parents aren’t looking. Therefore, I named a minor character in one of my stories, BW, after his moniker–Uncle Bad Words. 

The Don’ts of Naming-A Cautionary Tale 

Annoying your readers is the last thing you want to do. Therefore, there are a few things to consider when naming your characters. 

  • Don’t use names that are ridiculously difficult to pronounce. This often happens in science fiction because the writer seeks exotic, alien-sounding names. Try to keep it simple. If you must, consider including a pronunciation guide.
  • Don’t name too many of your characters using the same letter. It can become terribly confusing. I just read a book with only six speaking characters in it. For whatever reason, the author chose to use not one, but two names that start with the letters Ul. In my head, I had to stop and think which one she meant and it distracted me from the prose.

Keep track of Names in a Story Bible

Whatever you decide to name your characters, be sure to keep track of them–even the minor ones. Keeping a story bible can be helpful with this task. This is especially important if you’re writing a series. You never know when you might want to call a minor league character up to the big leagues. When and if you do, you’ll definitely want to spell their name right or your fans will call you out on it.

Do you have a topic you would like us to cover? Let us know about your suggestion. 


About Author

Heather Rigney is a fiction writer, blogger, journalist, and art teacher based in Rhode Island. Author of The Merrow Trilogy--a dark, historical fantasy novel that deals with homicidal mermaids, the colonial suppression of women, and a present-day alcoholic funeral director trying to make sense of it all. Her writing has been featured in Motif Magazine and Stone Crowns Magazine. By day she teaches art at an all-girls Quaker school and at night she tries to be creative while avoiding too many sweets. You can read more about Ms. Rigney on her website:

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