Writing your world: How to choose names

Writers in the broad fantasy and sci-fi genres tend to choose some of the most interesting and bizarre names out there. But is there any rhyme or reason in creating those characters names?


Creating and choosing names comes down to the world and image you as a writer want to set up for your readers. Consider the following:


Ø What time period are you writing about?

  •  If you’re writing a story that takes place in a prehistoric world, the name “Steve” might be a little out of place.
  • While you don’t have to choose an exact year, picking a particular period, like the Bronze Age, Middle Ages, Renaissance, etc., can help you establish a baseline for names to use.

ØHow close to our earth is your world?

  • When a writer chooses to write about our world with a slightly different twist, using real geographic locations and names that fit those regions works well.
  • If your story takes place in another dimension, on another planet, or somewhere else completely removed from life on Earth as we know it, get creative and take full artistic license to put together whatever names you see fit.


Even after you’ve established the when and where, choosing characters  names can still be difficult. Here are some ideas that professional authors use when deciding on names for characters:


Ø Historical Significance:

  •  Because of history, we as humans associate certain personality traits to certain names. For instance, the name Adolph was fairly popular before World War II, but for obvious reasons has become a rather uncommon and notorious name. All historically famous people, be they heroes or villains, have left a legacy in their namesake.

Ø Name Association:

  • Just as society tends to put meaning behind historical names, we also assign personality quirks to certain more common names. When most people think of names like Buzz, Mac, or Rocco, certain images come to mind. We either immediately associate the name with a profession or a personality type.  These associations are based upon societal stereotypes. In terms of writing, using a name that fits a stereotype allows for quick character development. On the other hand, going against the stereotype for a particular name can make for a rather captivating character.

Ø Famous literary characters:

  •  When in doubt, look to see what other writers have done. Professional authors definitely have patterns in the way they choose names, and it is important to do some research and explore these patterns as you set forth to create names for your own characters. A word of warning — understanding a pattern: good;  plagiarizing a pattern: bad.

Ø Meanings behind names:

  • Having a few books filled with names – i.e., baby name books — is a great tool for any author. Sure, you may get some curious looks when people pass your workspace and see you looking through baby names, but it can really pay off when you want your name to have a specific meaning or cultural sound. A quick search around the web will lead you to dozens, if not hundreds, of pages filled with common names, as well as names from different nationalities, time periods, and languages.

Ø Foreign languages:

  •  Sometimes authors want to stray away from proper names, and instead utilize the exotic sounds and allure of foreign languages. Babel Fish is just one of the thousands of wonderful places online that have free dictionaries and translation services for multiple languages. If you’re translating more than just one word, however, you may want to verify with someone who speaks the language.  

Choosing a name can be a fun adventure — if you’re a writer who likes research. The above methods are interesting ways to get your mind working and focused towards finding the best name that suits your character. But before you go off on your journey of research, remember a few simple guidelines.


–>Names are meant to be memorable, not distracting. If the names you use are too difficult to read or pronounce, they take the reader’s attention away from the story.



–>Each character name should be distinctive so that it is not confused with other characters. While I love Tolkien and other authors who have committed this faux pas à (I.E.,Sauron & Sarumon), similar sounding names can be incredibly confusing to the audience. True, this version of name-play can associate groups of characters together, but it can add to the confusion factor.



–> Do not feel obligated to create strange new names. If you write fantasy or sci-fi, of course you’re going to feel the need to create different sounding names. But if it’s getting in the way of you completing your story, then simply use common names that you like. Once you’ve created a fantastic storyline with a strong lead character, no one is going to point their finger and call out “Boring name!” And even if they do — they are probably a very sad individual whose opinion matters little in the scheme of things.


2 thoughts on “Writing your world: How to choose names

  1. thanks!!! 😀 i’ve been struggling to find names for my characters! This really helped me! Thanks again.

    my blog: twilighteverlasting.wordpress.com

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