What Kind of name is That

Over at The Paris Review, novelist Tony Tulathimutte writes: “To me the most embarrassing part of writing fiction, aside from telling people about it, is naming your characters. Of course, even “real” names are made up, but in life our names are things we can alter only with a great deal of paperwork; in fiction, writers can line up names and identities as they please, dropping or trading them on a whim. Contriving a name for a contrived person seems terribly precious to me, akin to naming a doll. You want your characters to have names that aren’t too convenient but still memorable and meaningful, which isn’t easy.”

Read the full article here:

Do you struggle with naming your characters?

What’s a memorable character name for you? Why?

What do you think a name should contribute to a character’s development?



International Bestselling Author Tim Tigner frequently draws character names from favorite Amazon reviews. There are nine such honorees in Falling Stars. “Winners” aren’t informed of their good fortune—they just find their names at the turn of a page. What fun! Perhaps you’ll be next.

Of course, those characters are all good. If you’d like to “kill off” a friend in one of Tim’s books, feel free to drop him a line using the Contact page. Maybe your buddy will get (un)lucky.

You are welcome to write Tim directly using the CONTACT tab on this website, https://timtigner.com/contact
He reads all his mail personally—and typically replies to the nice ones.

Best selling author Barbara Kingsolver reminisced in an interview about choosing characters names.
Recalling the process with her daughter’s help using euphonious mix and match method of first to last names from a wall of post-it notes.
The wall laiden with a variety of names she had uncovered while researching her own family’s history.
She noted her research revealed a great source of names from bygone eras with a little nod to her ancestors.


I always try to choose names that “look” like my characters. Of course that depends on who I’ve met in life, or seen in the media/social platforms.

I have a friend who writes thrillers, very gory affairs for the most part. One t-shirt she wears often reads: “Be nice to me – I write thrillers, so you may end up in my book.”

If someone has outraged her, their name is top of the list to be the next victim!


Great question! Most often, I use whatever pops into my mind and feels right. For my WIP, my protagonist’s name is Ollie. I’ve tried to change it, but she won’t let me! Other times, I use name meanings. Say I want a name that means treasure, for example. I Google “names that mean treasure”, and all the baby naming sites come up and give me lists and lists of names that mean treasure. Then I just choose the one that fits my character the best. Sometimes, I’ll play with a variation of the options if they’re not exactly what I want, but that’s basically my process.


@Joan_Nord welcome to the group. I like the underlying meaning to the names. That kind of extra layer adds richness to one’s writing.

@Kas it’s great to see you, I love your friend’s shirt

I need one as a fair warning disclaimer.

Has anyone else seen fun merchandise with “watch out I’m a writer…” types of messages?

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Lol, DeAnna. I like the “fair warning disclaimer”.

Sadly, she had the t-shirt made for her by another friend, otherwise I’d say we should all buy one, or something similar. But there is a U.S. company called Spreadshirts that make up funny shirts to order (or at least I think they do). Maybe we should commission a design along those lines for this group! :smiley:


Like @Joan_Nord, I sometimes use baby naming books or websites to find the name which has a meaning that represents the character I’m writing, or their background. There are some books and websites that list different ethnicities and country of origin names and their meanings. But sometimes the character is so strongly realized in my mind that they seem to name themselves. I’ve had several characters who practically walked into my head and introduced themselves.

Also, thanks for the info on Tim Tigner. That is a fun fact!


I go through countless lists via Pinterest or https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/
More often than not, I’ll keep searching until I find something that just feels “right”. While I’ll sometimes search for names with meanings relating to a character, there was one instance I got extremely lucky with meaning after the fact. One of the protagonists of my current WIP is called Kayden Alistair. For fun, I later looked into the meanings of both only to find that Kayden means “warrior” and Alistair roughly means “guardian of the people”. This fits him and his family to a T so needless to say, I was ecstatic.


I was playing a lot DnD and often needed a name on the fly. Over time I developed a method to do that without agony.
Usually I took a “normal” name, for example Sabrina, and then made little changes to it until I was satisfied: maybe Sabrena? Or Sabreena? Sabra? Sabrinna? Fabrina? Sabri’mah? ect…it was relatively easy this way to come up with a name that I could remember well, but that had enough “fantasy feel” to it and that fitted the names of rest of the group (or cast now).


Yes let’s do that. What fun!?!

I bet we could come up with some great one liners about being nice to writers, or else.


“I’m a fiction writer and you just made my hit list”

“I’m a writer. Be careful, you could be dead by the end of my next chapter.”

“If you don’t want bad things written about you, be nice to me. I’m a writer.”

“Once upon a time the mean customer service representative wound up dead in chapter 3,” said the author. “and then lived happily ever after. The End.”
(Could insert any mean-person description, the options are endless)

“Fair warning disclaimer, I am a writer and your name is looking pretty good right now for my next victim”

@Kas I bet you will come up with some 10x better, but I just had so much fun toying around with this.

Who else has a good t-shirt design idea for writers?


I don’t have a difficult time naming my characters, since they all have normal names; one of my pet peeves is reading a book with characters who have overly preppy/cutesy names like ‘Skyler’, or overdone fantasy names like ‘Aluria Fantasia von Whatever’… NOPE.
With my normal names, there are a few twists and/or hints about the characters themselves.
My stories are set in the U.S. and the characters come in a variety of races/ethnicities; their names - particularly their surnames - reflect this. There is some wordplay with many of the first names though, which is fun. One example is the character ‘Deborah’ - who works in a gift shop called El Panal - The Honeycomb. El Panal sells lots of items, including jars of honey and beeswax candles. Deborah is a Hebrew name which means bee.
Another example is with a character named Raymond Vluegels. He claims to be of Dutch and Danish heritage, but he’s actually a fallen angel. His true name is Ramiel (one of fallen angels), and his last name - Vluegels - means wings.

By the way, I write Paranormal/Urban Fantasy Romance.


I love it when writers give readers extra little tidbits of underlying mysteries to solve
(in a fun fact, no-coincidences, or fandom capacity)
because the choices authors make are so deeply thought out in every ​nuance, it’s that extra layer of connection.

As a reader it is a deeper connection to the written words, the characters invoked, the location conjured up in the imagination, to get to travel down that rabbit hole of deeper meaning to a greater understanding.

As a writer, it feels like a golden moment of connection when a reader just gets it (those tiny clues) on every level.



Deborah is a Hebrew name which means bee.

Funny story. When I lived with my parents, honeybees decided to make a hive inside the eaves on the front of the house. They chased everybody except me. :honeybee:


To the OP topic,

A lot of the time, I know a character’s name right off without having to look for it. I suppose it’s like they introduce themselves. On the occasion I don’t know someone’s name, that’s when I go digging, but those are often minor characters.

I actually have a good, old-fashioned phone book I’ve pulled names from. I’ve found some great ones in there, for genres ranging from SFF to Contemporary and about everything in between.

I ended up using the phone book approach to find the name of one of the big villains in my fanfic work and came across the one that fit her. Aurelia.

There was another instance more recently where I needed to name another fanfic villain, but I needed something specific–a name that started with an S that had to do with space/stars, etc., so I Googled a list of astronomy terms, found a name that had the needed ring of musical dread and adjusted it until I arrived at Sarsenonne.


Has anyone come across this website before:

It’s fun to play with it a while, seeing what types of names are suggested when plugging in certain characteristics. But fair warning: you can waste a lot of time.


I have not.

Has anyone else?

It sounds like fun and definitely would expand ones range for choosing names.

Any favorite names it generated for you @Kas?

Would be interesting to hear some that stood out for you.

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@Kas, I hadn’t heard of this one. Just bookmarked it.

I came across a fantasy name generator a few months ago though: https://richiebilling.com/welcome/the-writers-toolshed/fantasy-writing/fantasy-name-generator

Don’t really use name generators, but it’s fun to look at–maybe sometime it’ll give me a syllable or two I like.


Writer’s tools make the art of fiction life sweeter.

Helpful hint: Struggling with a character’s ideal name?

Use this generator, even as a quick cut to the chase to fill in a blank, while you ponder over the perfect name.

It keeps the flow of words to paper rolling.

THEN it’s easy enough to highlight that generated temporary name and select
“change all to” and enter new name.

VOILA!!! Instant name replacement through out your manuscript!

Thank you for the link!


Kia ora. I love naming characters. I see them in my mind’s eye and a name often forms for them. When that’s not happening, I search name lists or might hear a name while watching a programme on Netflix or similar and scribble it down in case it comes in handy. But, so far, the names for MCs and quite a few secondary characters come as I think of them and their characteristics. Re the latter, I do a lot of searching of, e.g., Pinterest and DeviantArt. This researching helps also with settings. It’s great fun. I do have to work on harnessing the activities. I can spend many hours that could be better used in actual writing.