Writing Fiction: Naming Characters

One of the hardest parts about writing is naming your characters. You want their names to seem realistic, but not be so real that someone with that name would sue you.

I use the internet to get realistic, age-appropriate first names. My sources are for American names. If you need foreign names, do a search for “most popular [country] names” to get a list of resources. 

For example, most popular Irish names will give you a list that includes Baby Names of Ireland. In addition to the names, you’ll also get information, meaning, and pronunciation of the names.

One terrific resource I use is the Social Security Administration. You can visit their site and get the top 5 names for girls and boys for the past 100 years. You can see the top names for any decade since the 1880s. You can get top names by state. 

There is a ton of information you can use to make your names realistic. If you’re writing a book set in the area where you grew up, look at yearbooks. Visit the library where you live and go through the phone books. Look at the history of the area where your story is set, and use names that would fit in or sound similar. 

When you decide on a name, Google it to see if actual people have that name. You may see Facebook pages, LinkedIn pages, obituaries, and other links to the name. Change any names of people you’re basing a character on, and change enough details that someone reading about Harry Potter, for example, doesn’t think you’re writing about them. 

Part of what makes a story seem plausible is having characters with names that don’t take the reader out of the story, unless that’s your objective. Mr. Lemoncello is a character in a particular type of story, Eve Dallas is a character in a different type of story, and most likely they wouldn’t be characters in the same story.

Naming characters can be fun, but it’s also a big part of what takes your readers into the story world you create.