Does anybody else have a long list of names saved in their Notes app that are unique, that make you feel something, or even just sound cool? No, just me? I refer to this list for many of my characters, which I regularly add to whenever I come across a name I like. Sometimes, especially for the main character, I find myself wanting a name that has a deeper meaning, and I need to be more thoughtful about choosing the name. Today, I want to talk about how to pick a character name. What’s in a name, anyway?
Who Are They?
Try to let your character inform their name. Is your character of a specific culture that could be researched and mined for naming inspiration? Does your character have an occupation that can inspire a name? Does your character have a particular temperament that you can hint at with their name? Or maybe you want to go the opposite route and let your character’s name go against the type of person they are, for example, a huge mobster people all call “Tiny.”
Names are often the first way to give an audience clues about who this person is, and you can use that to subtly tell them something about the character that will be relevant later or use it to subvert their expectations.
Switch Up the First Letter
Your protagonist’s name may benefit from being a different letter from any other characters’ name. You don’t want a bunch of characters to all have names with the first letter in common because it’s confusing for the audience. Similarly, if your main character’s name is an entirely different letter (or a unique first letter like Q, U, V, X, Z), then it’ll stand out more on the page.
Not Too Plain and Not Too Unique
You don’t want your main characters to have a name that’s so bland that it’s forgettable. On the other hand, you don’t want a name that’s too difficult to pronounce or spelled in a confusing way. It gets in the way of the story.
Alliteration Is Your Friend
You can use a device like alliteration to make a memorable name like Wonder Woman or Bugs Bunny. Alliteration is a time tested way to make a name stick in people’s minds!
Not All Characters Need Names
When you name someone, you’re signaling to the reader that this character is important. If your character only has two dialogue lines or is just around really briefly in your script, they likely won’t need to be named. You can call them by their function, such as “Man on Street” or “Barista.”
If you’re stuck, head over to a baby names website and start browsing! Baby name websites are a reliable go-to for character naming. If you’re looking for more unique names or names relating to a specific time period, I’d suggest perusing old yearbooks, a phonebook, or even your family tree for inspiration!
SoCreate Screenwriting Software will make it a breeze to try different names on for size for your story’s characters. Make sure you’re on their private beta list to get in line to try the software when they launch beta trials soon.
There are many things to consider when naming your characters, just like naming children or animals in real life! Don’t forget, next time you hear a name that sparks something in you, jot it down. You’ll thank yourself later. Happy writing!