Wednesday, April 18, 2018

5 Sources for Character Names - Guest Post by JPC Allen

Creating names for characters is the one writing task I always find enjoyable. I’ve been fascinated with names since I was a kid, pouring through baby name books to look up the meaning of my name and those of my family.

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If you have run out of inspiration for new names, check out the sources below. But remember The Golden Rule of Characters Names: It must be easy to sound out. I invented a Slavic-sounding last name, Stalvochek. Although it’s long, it’s easy to pronounce, “Stahl-voe-check”. But if I tried something like Tziwowicz, my readers would give up and skip over it every time it reared its ugly head.

1. Family History – If you have an amateur genealogist in your family, take a look at her work. My sister fills that role in our family and has uncovered relatives named Moses, Minerva, and Oral. Among the last names, she’s found Bonar, Righter, and Talkington.

If you are planning to write about a family that covers several generations, studying your family’s naming patterns can help you build realistic-sounding names. In my family, we use middle names to honor someone while first names are usually ones the parents just like. Five of my parents’ grandsons are named after grandfathers or great-grandfathers. My sister gave her daughter the middle name “Brooke” in memory of a college roommate.

2. Social Security Baby Names – With this site, you can search baby naming trends back to 1880. I wanted to use popular names for a wealthy family as a signal that they follow social norms and are boring. The father, born in the 1970’s, is Jason, a top-ten name from 1971-1983. His teenage son is Jacob, a name that soared in popularity around the turn of the millennium. This site does have one drawback. It doesn’t combine spelling variations. “Aiden” is much more popular than you would think from this site because parents spell it so many different ways, and each of those ways is listed separately.

The next three categories are aimed at writers of fantasy and science fiction. But contemporary writers might still find inspiration. Maybe you have a professor of Celtic mythology who named all her children after the gods in those myths.

3. Scientific names for animals – Get a field guide. Flipping through my husband’s book on birds, I find Calidris, Striatus, Thula. Asio, Strix, and Zenaida. Tyto Albo is the name for barn owls. It also sounds like a great name for the hero of an epic. If I change it to Tyta Albo or Alba Tyto, I have a heroine.

4. Mythology – A search through less well-known Greek, Roman, and Norse myths can provide names. I recommend dipping into mythologies that aren’t as well-known in America, like Celtic and Slavic. Just a few names I’ve found from Celtic and Slavic stories are Bres, Korrigan, Sadko, Morevna, and Caradoc.

5. Reverse and tinker with well-known names – I take a name like William and write it backwards, Mialliw. That’s unpronounceable. But if I take off the “iw”, I have Miall. Changing the “i” to “y”, I now have Myall, a name any English reader can sound out.

Where do you find inspiration for characters’ names? Let us know in the comments!


5 Sources for Character Names #writingtips #amwriting

JPC Allen chose initials for her pen name because she thought it had to be more memorable than “Jennifer”. She is a 2016 semi-finalist in the ACFW’s Genesis contest for her contemporary YA novel The Truth and Other Strangers. An English major and former children’s librarian, she loves to introduce tweens and teens to the adventure of writing through her workshops. She offers writing tips and prompts for beginning writers at and A lifelong Buckeye, JPC Allen has deep root in the Mountain State.


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