Character names are the easy part, right?4 min read

by | Aug 5, 2016 | Writing | 0 comments

Not only is Protagonist #3 a rubbish name, but it takes an age to type every time you need her to make an appearance. “Protagonist #3 strides in with ludicrously souped-up machine gun.” “Protagonist #3 strides out, pursued by a bear.” No matter what is happening in your story, Protagonist #3 is going to need a name.

Something cool.

Something a bit different.


But not so different that it looks like you chose the name by shaking up Boggle to see which letters lined up. (‘Xgfp’ is only going to work in super niche markets. And gods forbid you have to read it aloud. Exgrfurpa? Eeksgeefiper? I give up.)

Sometimes you know the right name immediately and it all just sounds (and feels) spot on. Those times are ace. But they can make it feel more difficult when you come across a character like Xgfp who doesn’t have that name that feels immediately fated to belong to them.

So how should we go about finding a name for Xgfp?

There are lots of baby name website out there that let you search names by meaning. I’m a big fan of calling my characters by a name that means something about them.

But when naming characters by meaning watch out that it doesn’t cause any problems in your plot, you don’t want to give the game away. Once I named a character Mizuko (meaning “water child” according to the baby naming site I was on). Unfortunately, for my Japanese reader, this gave away the whole plot point of her being discovered as the missing water god everyone was searching for. Whoops.

Away from baby naming sites there are good name generators too. Sitting on some of those websites and clicking refresh a lot might generate some ideas. It should at least get your brain ticking.

I’m liking Maverick Goober so far.

But Maverick Goober still isn’t quite as cool as I’d like for Xgfp. Are there people in history, in other stories, or in your life that you admire? Or people that display the sorts of qualities you see in Maverick Goober/Xgfp/Protagonist #3?

Sometimes you find that your placeholder name ends up growing on you, and the character. Names don’t make characters, characters make names.

Sure, a good name can help identify a possible cultural background and (maybe) an age range or gender, but when you’ve got a good character people will grow to love the name and link it to the best of your character’s traits, not the other way around. Think of Hermione and Daenerys.

So I’m sticking with my Boogle-derived Xgfp for now. I’ll keep working on the pronunciation.

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