Pen & Ink

Sharing Fiction, Poetry, and Writing Tutorials

How to Come up With Names for Characters – 5 Tips (Guest Post by Amelia Cabot)

Hey everyone! Today I will be sharing a guest post with you by my friend, Amelia Cabot! Amelia won second place in the short contest last summer with her story, The Fault to be Forgiven. Now she returns to us with this wonderful article, How to Come Up with Names for Characters.

I know you all will enjoy these tips written by Amelia, so let’s go ahead and read her article!

How to Come Up With Names for Characters – 5 Tips

Ever sat there—wherever there is for you—and wondered what in the world you’re going to name your character? (A.k.a. spent twenty minutes racking your brain, searching the Internet, and squealing over names you liked while wondering why parents name their children the weird names that they do?)

(Seriously, one day, some people are going to have kids named after Stranger Things, famous YouTubers, and anime.)

But never fear! (Unless you’re fearing for the fact that children will be named after previously mentioned topics.) Here are five tips to get you started—and maybe finished—on picking good fictional character names.

1. Consider your character’s role.

Rule of thumb: you don’t need to waste time attempting to find a good name for a minor character that comes into the story about three times. You can stick to something simple, such as Jane or Lisa or Robert. (Apologies to all people whose names are Jane, Lisa, or Robert.) As long as it’s a decent name, you’re good to go.

On the other hand, some secondary characters might have specific roles that can attribute particular names to them. For example, if you have a grandmother who’s a secondary character, you’d want to deviate toward names that were popular in whatever century this grandmother was born in. Gertrude and Matilda are probably the top two names somebody thinks of for a grandmother.

But at the same time, you can come up with silly names within reason, particularly if you’re naming an animal. In the kids’ book series The Princess in Black, Princess Magnolia’s horse had one laughable name. It wasn’t Bonnie, or Charlie, or something cute like that. Do you know what that girl named her horse?


2. Consider your story’s genre and time frame.

I cannot emphasize the number of musts and all the fancy fonts I could use for this point. Please, for the sake of all the world, please do not use a name that doesn’t even exist in that era. You’re safe with using nearly any name for a character that’s in the 21st century, but you’re going to have to think harder if you have a character who’s in a previous century. If you have a male character in the 18th century, you wouldn’t want to name him Jayden or Kai or Ryder.

(Please don’t name an 18th-century dude after the leader of Paw Patrol.)

Reading literature that was written in the time frame of your genre can help you find names that you can safely use. So if the Internet isn’t giving you much help, turn to a novel (or two, or three, or several) set in that or a similar time frame/world.

3. Consider your character’s background.

Everything from the culture your character grew up in, to the century he is in, to whether he lives in a fantasy world or during a historic event matters. When I did a short story for an anthology, I set the story in West Berlin, Germany, during the 1940s. And I think you can pick up on what my MC needed: a German name that existed in the 1940s, preferably during the 1930s, since that would be when my character was born.

Another thing to keep in mind with characters from different countries is how much spelling you want to endure. Some names are absolutely lovely, but the pain that goes into typing their name out can be avoided. If you’re repeatedly baffled about where to put accent marks over letters or how to spell your character’s name, you might want to pick an easier name or figure out a decent nickname to use throughout the book. (Use with caution; your reader might forget the character’s real name entirely.)

Then there’s this lovely thing called personality, which makes the naming process a lot more fun than anticipated. Some names just scream personality overload, while others hint at characters that are more low-key than others. And other times, you can use a name to mean the exact opposite of its technical definition.

For instance, in Stars in the Grass by Ann Marie Stewart, Abby, the nine-year-old MC, knows a girl named Melody. When you think of that name, don’t you automatically associate said person with musical abilities?

That didn’t exactly happen to this Melody.

Apparently, she couldn’t sing a lick of music … and on top of that, Abby would intentionally sing “In My Heart There Rings a Melody” as loudly as possible whenever they had to sing it in her church’s choir.

Poor Melody refused to join the choir ever again.

4. Avoid having characters with names that start with the same letter.

This has both pros and cons. If you’re writing a standalone novel, you can maybe get away with using names that start with the same letter as long as you have distinctions between who’s who. I once read a story in which two characters had names that started with an ‘L,’ which caused confusion if the reader didn’t catch early on that one was the daughter and the other was a different character.

However, if you’re going to write a series that involves several characters (as in, you have to write everyone down on a sheet of paper just to recall whose friend is whose and who married who and who makes terrible life choices), try using characters with names that don’t start with the same letter. Otherwise, you’re setting your readers up for frustration, particularly if they’re reading when they’re tired and they start glazing over the story.

5. Simple is often best!

Let’s be real, fellow writers. If you could spend your precious time writing instead of getting lost down trails of names, you might as well use that time. Sometimes it’s okay to give your characters three-letter names or an old-fashioned name.

You can even ask other people for name suggestions, and they might be able to help you out. Or you might get some inspiration from family members or friends and use their names, just as long as you don’t get confused and make your character become the person you’ve named them after. And if that still doesn’t work?

Just pull up another name website.

And add to that already lengthy list of names parents shouldn’t be giving their kids.

About Amelia

Amelia Cabot is a sinner saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus, homeschooler, and Christian fiction/poetry writer who has embraced the world of writing since she was six. She can typically be found in the corner of the living room at her desk, mostly due to the fact that she lives in an apartment and doesn’t use her room half of the time. Although she hasn’t had anything of her own published yet, she has dabbled in writing contests, and the Tell Me You Love Me anthology is the first official work she has been published in. When she’s not writing, she’s filming memories, snapping myriads of photos, puzzling over the enigmas her violin and piano hold, singing, delving into Spanish, observing the sky, or daydreaming about her characters and the never-ending drama they endure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

36 responses to “How to Come up With Names for Characters – 5 Tips (Guest Post by Amelia Cabot)”

  1. Amelia Avatar

    YOU’RE WELCOME!!! THAT IS WHAT I’M HERE FOR!!! (Hm, probably good … She about flew off to find some kids that were bullying our other honorary little sister back when said other honorary little sister was in elementary school … We were like, “GIRLIE, GIRLIE, CALM YOURSELF!!” LOL!!

  2. Daniel Amador Avatar
    Daniel Amador

    Great tips! Thanks, Amelia!

    1. Amelia Avatar

      Thank you, Daniel, for reading and commenting! 🙂

  3. Lillian Keith Avatar

    Frimplepants XD. That’s a hilarious name!

    I loved this post, Amelia! Thanks so much for these helpful tips!

    1. Amelia Avatar

      Right?? LOL!! My dad used to think that was hilarious when he read that back when I was a kid. XD

      Aw, thank you! And thank you for stopping by!! 😀

  4. Amelia Avatar

    Thank you so much for allowing me to write this, Annabelle! 😀 ‘Twas definitely a new experience for me! (And wading through that author bio of mine … *screams* LOL!)

    1. Annabelle Avatar

      You’re very welcome! Thank you for writing it! (Haha, no worries about that… author bios are tough… I really need to update mine lol)

      1. Amelia Avatar

        You are very welcome! (Now I’m just parroting … Ah, well. XD) Ahhhhh, hey, at least you maintain the blog; so your author bio can come along when it decides to. *nods wisely* 😀

        1. Annabelle Avatar

          That’s true lol. If you ever want to update the bio in this post (or anything in this post, really), just shoot me an email and I’d be glad to change it! 🙂

          1. Amelia Avatar

            Got it! Thank you! 🙂

  5. Rose Q. Addams Avatar
    Rose Q. Addams

    What a fun (and sometimes necessary!!) article!

    1. Amelia Avatar

      Haha, aww, thank you, Rose!! It is necessary … although I literally just realized I have two characters in my WIP with the same name. Oh, joy. LOL!

  6. Saraina Whitney Avatar

    Ohh, this was fantastic, Amelia!!! 😀 I have a very annoying habit of choosing a-little-TOO-rare names for my charries, regardless of whether they’re historically accurate or not. *sobs* And then I get so attached to the names for the characters I don’t want to change them! Maybe I do that because I haven’t met anyone else with my name, which apparently makes me think all my characters have to be the same way. Rant aside, you gave some great tips, so thank you!!! (And thank you, Annabelle, for having her on!)

    1. Amelia Avatar

      “And then I get so attached to the names for the characters I don’t want to change them!”
      That made me laugh! I feel that though. You spent sooooo much time developing your beauties … and then you realize, “HOLD UP, THAT AIN’T RIGHT-” (I’m not sure if your brain automatically goes to saying ain’t, but go with it. XD)
      WHAT?? Nobody else you’ve met has the name Saraina???? (You do have a unique name though!! A lovely, unique name!! 😀 ) If it helps, I’ve met only one Amelia in my lifetime so far that I’m aware of. XD
      Aw, thank you! And thanks for stopping by to read! 🙂

      1. Saraina Whitney Avatar

        Hahaha yes!!!! Positively tragic. (XDD) Aww, thank youuu!!! *high five* No kidding! Actually, I’m pretty sure I only know one other Amelia too! (I think it’s such a pretty name!!! 😀 <3 )

        Absolutely! Thank YOU for writing it!! 😉

        1. Amelia Avatar

          *the saga of drama as a writer continues XDXDXD* (YES, A HIGH FIVE FROM THE ONE AND ONLY–okay, the one and only for now–SARAINA! XDXDXD) So that means I am now the second Amelia you know … Or the first. Hm. XD Oh, dear. (Awww, thank you!! In all fairness though, I once looked my name up and found that it was a medical term with an … unsavory definition LOL!)

          1. Saraina Whitney Avatar

            YES! 😀 (LOL!) I think the second, but the other Amelia is a little kid, so I don’t, like, know know her. 😉 (That totally makes sense, right? 😀 ) Oof! poor you! Well, saaaaadly – and don’t tell anyone this – Saraina is also the name of a kind of spider. *sobs into a pillow* I hate spiders. HAHA! Thankfully it’s apparently not well known. But my parents came up with Saraina by combining Sarah (princess) + Lorraine (famous army) so I go with those meanings. XD

            1. Amelia Avatar

              Whale, you know OF her then. I know of another Amelia, too LOL! (Oh, yeah, it makes sense!) O.o Your–your name–
              *strokes your hair sympathetically while you sob* There, there, don’t cry. At least both of us can suffer together LOL! I hate spiders, too, LOL!!
              OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOH, YEEEEEEEEEEES, CHICA (that is Spanish for girl XD), THAT’S LOVELY!!!!! Especially the princess part … Yeeeeeeees.
              (Although you’re a … famous army, eh? I have an honorary little sister whose name means “weapon” in some other language. French, maybe. Oh, joy.)

              1. Saraina Whitney Avatar

                *hugs you gratefully as the sobs cease* THANK YOU!!! (Hahaha, yeah! Oh goodness… *stifles a laugh* I guess that could be good or bad depending on the situation XDD)

    2. Annabelle Avatar

      No problem, Saraina! (And actually, just a little side note: I do LOVE your name, and I actually wrote it down on my list for future characters.)

      1. Saraina Whitney Avatar

        (AWW!! Thank you!!!)

  7. Grace A. Johnson Avatar

    LOVE this post, Amelia!! (Now I wonder if the Melody I know can sing…hmm…XD) And YES PLEASE NO 18TH CENTURY RYDERS. PLEASE. LOL. I can’t even count how many times I’ve encountered obviously 21st century names in a 19th century (or worse, MEDIEVAL) story!!! *sobs at historical inaccuracy* OH, and if anyone ever needs lists for unique names (esp. historical names), I have TONS!!! 😀

    Thanks for having Amelia on, Annabelle! <3

    1. Amelia Avatar

      Thank youuuuuu!!! (Well, if she plays instruments, that’s an automatic yes LOL!! If not, then she is like my homeschool video history teacher who once tried learning piano but failed because he’s tone deaf. XD We still love him, even if he sang the Presidents’ song with us and still can’t sing a lick.) IF I EVER SEE AN 18TH CENTURY RYDER, I WILL CRY. (Although I did see in the store some time ago some Paw Patrol toy that didn’t spell “you’re” right on the back of the packaging. COME ON, PAW PATROL, FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR YOUNG VIEWERS, LEARN TO SPELL RIGHT!!)
      Oof, you’ve encountered 21st century names in 19th century/medieval stories?? Rouuuuuuuugh. I’ve yet to experience that myself. XD
      OOH, yeeeeeeeees, chica, you have allllll the names. 😉
      Thank YOU for reading! 🙂

      1. Grace A. Johnson Avatar

        You’re so welcome!!! (Hmm, I’ll have to ask… LOL!) GIRL SO WILL I!!! (Oh, good gosh. Cain’t nobudy spel rite thees dayz. *groans* IKR!!!)
        Yerp. Mainly with boy names that are just…way too modern-day to plausibly be the name of a cowboy or duke. *shakes head* Sacrifice handsome names for accuracy, please. Marmaduke and Reginald will grow on you eventually, believe me.
        Haha, yes, and I have used them all too! XD
        My pleasure!! <33

        1. Amelia Avatar

          (Yes, you should probably ask and not assume. Assumptions are not always wise XD.) WE WILL PETITION TO PAW PATROL NOT TO MAKE SUCH MONSTROSITIES OF THEIR PRODUCTS!! I CAN’T EVEN SPELL MONSTROSITIES RIGHT LOL!! (Ain’t that write, sizsterr)

          Oh, cringe, even the dukes?? (Not that I can recall a book with a duke. XD) Marmaduke … I cannot believe that is a name. XDXDXD (Then again, future generations will look back and wonder why some parents named their little girls Leaf and Snowy. It’s great.)

          1. Grace A. Johnson Avatar

            (Don’t worry. I certainly wouldn’t assume.) YES!!! *signs name on petition* I BELIEVE IT IS MONSTROSITIES. BUT DON’T KWOT ME ON THAT.

            Oh, of course. XD Haha, it is…and it really does grow on you. XD (Oof, no kidding. XD)

            1. Amelia Avatar


              *checks my arms* I don’t see anything abnormal growing on me. Are you sure that Marmadukes are growing on me? If anything, it couldn’t be marmalade either … (We must pay homage to Paddington. XD)

              1. Grace A. Johnson Avatar

                *facepalms* WOW. HAD I KNOWN, I WOULDN’T HAVE. LOL!

                *shakes head* Girl, you have the most uncanny sense of humor. (Haha, of course. XD)

                1. Amelia Avatar


                  I have humor that’s supernatural/eerie/mysterious or severe/punishing?? OOH, WAIT, I’M SUPERHUMAN?? MY HUMOR IS SUPERHUMAN?? OR MY HUMOR IS … punishing???? XDXDXD (Quite frankly, my dad is to blame. He’s the one I exchange snark and jokes with on a regular basis. XD)

  8. Vanessa Hall Avatar

    Ah, amazing post! I need so many tips on how to name characters. It can be such a rigorous process. 🙂

    1. Amelia Avatar

      Aww, thank you! 😀 PFT, right??? (Also me: did the exact same thing you did by giving two of her characters names that start with the same letter. But the second one is spelled differently from the original; so give or take, I might be able to pass. XD) And thank you for beta reading this for me earlier!

  9. Emily Avatar

    AMELIA! Small world, eh? Congrats! Names are so fun.

    1. Amelia Avatar

      *gasps* Do my eyes deceive me??? Is this THE Emily from my writers’ group?? (If it isn’t, pretend like you didn’t hear me exclaim all of that. XD)
      Thank you! Names … Fun, yes. Troublesome, yes. Just like cats. LOL!

  10. Tasha Van Kesteren Avatar
    Tasha Van Kesteren

    Awesome post! Super helpful!

    1. Amelia Avatar

      Aw, thank you, Tasha! Glad it was helpful! 🙂