Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Naming Characters – from Mary’s Notebook

Guest post by Mary Blount Christianskateboarder.jpg
It helps when we create name for a fictional character to first create a background–positive and negative traits, talents, skills, interests, siblings and birth order, goals, conflicting emotions, support group [oft times friends more than siblings]. We make note of their needs–emotionally, physically, and spiritually; need to receive love and to give love, to have respect from peers and self, and to learn and achieve. Just ask yourself, what kind of character do I need to handle the challenges of my plot?beautifulgirl.jpg
I find giving them a name that seems right often makes things fall into place–is it a family name, an unusual one that may give way to teasing, a strong name or a weak one, or a preferred nickname? A good exercise is to imagine visiting the protagonist’s room. How is it decorated? Any posters on the walls? Does it reflect her taste or is it in conflict? Go through the character’s purse or wallet for the older characters, or the toy box or that treasure box tucked under the bed. What we keep defines us. People tend to carry their lives in their wallets–club memberships, family pictures, friends’ pictures, that sort of thing.
In the November 2011 The Writer magazine, Bharti Kirchner wrote an article, “Tips for Naming your Characters.” She suggests that you get to know your character first [gender, personality, place of birth, hidden traits, ideals and socioeconomic status. Even the smallest of our readers share these. In names, she suggests that you not use names that work for either gender [Pat, Robin, Chris, etc.]
As tempting as it is, it’s best to not give your characters names of your kin and friends. Your job is to give characters flaws and challenges that even those yearning to see their names in print probably won’t like. Names need to fit your character the way a glove fits your hand.
Other things to avoid because repetition gets boring or confusing:
– All characters with one syllable names [Sam, Bill, Jan]
– Rhyming names [Harry and Larry, etc.]
– Names all beginning with the same letter
– Difficult to pronounce or spell
You can find popular US names listed by the birth year on the web at Most recent year is 2015.
Here’s an index of researched surnames. For Asian names, try top 100 Chinese Surnames and Korean Surnames.
Host’s note: Looking for another ethnicity? Google it, but I hope you aren’t just using random last names with no idea about the culture where you got it. 😉

About Mary Blount Christian
Mary has more than 100 trade books published in the children’s–plus reprints in Braille French, Japanese, Indonesian–and young adult field with six adult mysteries due in 2016. Follow her blog here.
Kid photos courtesy of

Posted in Craft, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Naming Your Character

photo courtesy of earl53 on
isz8gyWy.jpgI recently read this tweet by @nikkitrionfo “I hate choosing character names. #amwriting” And I told her how at our SCBWI Oregon retreat, @doesntmattr (an editor from Scholastic) talked about with project ideas, he just uses “Bob.” He replied to our tweets with “I could spend two hours trying to come up with a name. ‘Bob’ gets the job done.”

For me, I need the character’s name before I can move on in the storyline. Maybe I agree with what Anne of Green Gables says, “I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose WOULD be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables. In my opinion, who the character is is part of his or her name.

One of the resources I use is a name the baby book and lists of popular names on the internet. I look for names that sound right and often, but not always, check the meaning of names. Where and when a name was or was not popular can be important too.

For surnames, I like using the internet again to look up common last names. I might do it by city or state, ethnicity, and again meaning.

In real life, I’ve named dogs people names (Sadie and Quinn), but I don’t recommend doing that in a story. I think it is easier for the reader if pets have more obvious pet names.

Character Naming Resources
All these have practical tips, but this article is my favorite: “8 Tips for Naming Characters” by Dan Schmidt @toucanic
The 7 Rules of Picking Names for Fictional Characters” by Brian A. Klems @BrianKlems
Name That Character: Top Ten Tips” has “do”s and “don’t”s as well as samples from books and movies.
I Need Help Naming My Character!” – What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Name Your Character
This article “Tips for writers on naming fictional characters” has some interesting sections, such as “Terms of Endearment,” “Overused Names,” and “Loaded Names.”
On this page, Random Name Generator at, indicate how many given names and gender and provide an optional surname. You can choose ethnicity/language, plus extras such as Mythology, Ancient, Biblical, and labels like Fairy, Goth, Hillbilly.
There’s also a Last Name Generator, but it isn’t as flexible or fun.

How do YOU name your characters?