Monday, January 23, 2012

Writing Tips: Character Names

I'll admit it. I'm terrible at coming up with names for my characters. When I look back through my short stories I see that I tend to repeat certain names, especially mens names. Mac seems to be popular with me. I'm not sure why.

For men, names with a K sound seem sexy and strong. Kirk, Dirk, the previously mentioned Mac, Curt, and Cord, for example.

For women, it's a little harder. If she's someone sort of cute, then I think she needs a name that is kind of cute which usually means something with a y-sound ending: Marcie, Darcy, Penny or Cici. If she's a little more business-like, then she might have a short name like Kate, Anne, or Liz. Or maybe a name that sounds sort of tomboy-ish like Ronnie, Ricki, or Joey.

Sure, I could go against character and have a very silly woman who is named Margaret, but when you write short stories, I think you need to use a few of these stereotypes to make your point since you don't have a lot of space.

One exception might be, though, someone who laments their name. Maybe a fun loving free spirit named Margaret who wishes everyone would call her Maggie or Meg and gets frustrated when they call her Margaret.

My problem is that I'll be writing along and decide that I need to add a secondary character but I can't think of a good name for them so I'll stop writing and think about names, maybe I'll even look through the phone book for a good name. This lack of planning causes me to stop writing and get distracted from my story.

How do I solve this problem? If I can't come up with a name quickly, I just leave a blank line ______ where there name should be as a reminder to myself that I need a name there. Don't just leave a blank space because you might not remember to come back and fix it.

The other thing that I'm going to start doing is to keep a list of possible character names where I'll write down interesting names either when I hear them or think of them. That way, I'll already have a ready supply of possible names.

What about you? How do you come up with names for your characters? As a reader, how important are names to you? Do you get annoyed with a story where everyone has an unusual name or a quirky nickname?


  1. I know it sounds weird but lately I try to put myself in the mindset of the character's parents. What were they thinking when their child was born? Did they imagine their future kid to be Maggie or were they hoping for business-like Margaret? Did they hit or miss? I have one character whose name is ironic (Sky is afraid of heights) and it was a total coincidence. For the most part, I just go with names that I like. I also have a tendency to pick names that are unique because it feels awkward to me when I meet a person with the same name as a character I write.

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Interesting idea about the parents and what they were thinking. I also like your idea to use unusual names so that when you meet someone with that name, you don't feel awkward. When I'm working on a story and the character names are in my head and then someone mentions someone with the same name, it sort of freaks me out.


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