It seems a lot of writers have trouble coming up with names for their characters. Thankfully, I’ve never had any trouble doing that—it’s the story itself that gives me sleepless nights. Telling you that names just pop up in my head isn’t much use to you, so I thought I’d give you some tips on finding character names without relying on spooky magic.
Grab three sheets of paper. On one, make a list of as many Christian names as you can think of. They can be friends, family, colleagues, whatever. Just write down as many as possible.
On the second sheet, make a list of adjectives. Again, write down as many as you can think of, common, obscure, anything.
On the third sheet, make a list of things. You know the score: “head”, “foot”, “tree”, “mouse”, “flower” etc.
Now make a surname by choosing an item from list two and another from list three and combining them. Generally, it works best with the adjective first but play around with combinations until you find a pair that works for you.
Finally, scan your list of first names and find one that seems to fit with your new surname. Here are some examples I made earlier: “Richard Longfoot”, “Heather Hardfield”, “Florence Wiseflower”, “Sebastian Smallstone”
The more items you have on your three lists, the greater the number of permutations you’ll have so keep adding to them whenever you can.
This is simple but effective. Just go and have a wander around an old cemetery and look at the gravestones. You are bound to discover a few that spark your imagination and what a lovely tribute it is for someone if you bring them back to life in your character (unless it’s a horrible character!). I discovered “Augustus Sneath” this way—I’d never have thought him up.
What about aliens or fantasy characters?
The above methods work fine for humans but may not be quite so helpful for sci-fi and fantasy writers. The best advice I can give here is to make up words that fit the nature of the character. Think about how Klingons have harsh, aggressive sounding names or how Elves have dreamy, lilting names. If you can’t think of anything completely original you can try taking a name or phrase you know and messing with the spelling and punctuation. For example, you may know someone called Annika, from which you could derive Anyka. Barry could become B’ah Ree. In my book “The Planet Baggers” I used the phrase “camel toe” to create the savage alien K’Mel Toh!
One last thing
Don’t throw anything away! Keep a list on your computer or in a notebook, whatever works for you, but add to it whenever you can. Names can come to you at the weirdest times but you can forget them just as quickly. Write them down. Build up a stockpile of names for possible future use. They may never get used, or one day, you might find you already have just the name you need for a new character.