10 Resources to Help Fiction Writers with Character Names
Naming your characters can be almost as hard as naming your kids–or so I've been told. I don't have kids. What I do have is experience gently rubbing my aching temples in the wee hours of the morning as I try to think of the perfect name for my villain or as I wonder half-hysterically if I can really tolerate writing 300 pages about a character named Priscilla Louisa.
At these moments, character naming resources come in very handy. The 10 I've listed are my personal favorites, but feel free to add yours in the comments section. I'm always happy for new ideas!
1. Baby Names for the New Century: A Comprehensive Multicultural Guide to Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby, by Pamela Samuelson (HarperTorch, 1994). I was surprised to see that this book had a rather average ranking on Amazon, because I've been using it for years. It contains a ton of names along with their derivatives and origins. Unfortunately, it's getting a little dated now–it was, after all, published almost 20 years ago–but I still use it on a regular basis.
2. The Baby Name Wizard: A Magical Method for Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby, by Laura Wattenberg (Three Rivers Press, 2005). There are many things I like about this book, including the graphs that show dips and rises in the name's popularity and the suggestions for sibling names that match the name being discussed.
3. Baby Names Made Easy: The Complete Reverse-Dictionary of Baby Names, by Amanda Elizabeth Barden (Touchstone, 2009). This very helpful book allows you to look up names by their meanings. If you enjoy using character names with a symbolic touch, this is an excellent resource for you.
4. A is for Atticus: Baby Names from Great Books, by Lorilee Craker (Center Street, 2008). Granted, this book isn't as comprehensive as some other books of baby/character names, but it does a great job of suggesting literary names from the obvious to the obscure. Especially helpful if you're trying to decide on a name for a teenage character whose parents are both English professors.
5. The Telephone Book. The telephone book is great for finding surnames.
6. Your Bookshelf. I have a huge selection of books (surprise, surprise). Sometimes, when I'm trying to name a minor character, I will look at the spines of the books and lift a first name from one author and a last name from another author. Sure, you have to use some common sense–Stephen Rowling probably isn't going to fly–but good luck figuring out which two authors I used to come up with Jenny Zimmer.
7. Fantasy Name Generator. There are dozens of fantasy name generators online. I happen to like this one because it's easy to use and pops up with some very unusual and fantastic-sounding names. It's a great tool if you're writing a fantasy story and need a name for a minor character quickly.
8. 20,000+ Names from Around the World. A warehouse of names from around the world. It's easy to search by nationality and gender. There's also a brief section here for fantasy writers.
9. Social Security Administration–Popular Baby Names. Hello, my old friend. I've been using this program ever since I discovered it. If you need a name for a character who was born in 1945, simply type in the year and you'll get a list of the 20 most popular names for men and women.
10. Google. Okay, so I'm cheating a little. Google doesn't actually help me find names, but I've gotten into the habit of entering any character name I'm thinking of using into Google. I don't mind finding a few matches, but if I find out the name I'm thinking of is also the name of a prominent mafia figure or has already been used extensively in literature (e.g., Harry Potter), I make some quick modifications.
How do you find character names?