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What’s in a Name? Coming Up with Character Names for Your Story

Photo by Heiner from PexelsI’m not going to lie – I struggle with coming up with character names for my stories. It wasn’t an issue so much when I took creative writing in college. Back then, all my characters were loosely based on my friends so I would give them names similar to the person they were based on. It was a funny as it got to the point where people would ask for me to give them a cameo in the book.

Maturity Played a Role:

I approach naming characters differently now. I sometimes try to make the names to tell you something about them. For example, first names like “Mohammed,” “Latisha” and “Brittany” may give clues about the character’s appearances. Last names like “Sanchez,” “Esposito” or “Patel” may provide information about the character’s ancestry. Take moment to re-read each name and think about the image that pops in your head and you’ll see what I mean.

On the flip side, you can use a name that challenges what many people associate with it. For example, one of the stories I wrote in college had a character named “Bob Smith.” Now, you might imagine someone of European descent when you hear that name. But this character was a first generation American – when his parents emigrated from India, they changed their names to sound more American. This character is a college student that dislikes that decision and it’s a big part of his personality.


Names Based on Real People:

I try not to use real names of people in a fictional book. The only exception is if it’s to honor someone by naming a hero, or other “good” character, after them. I get that sometimes people will name a character after someone they dislike so they can rip them apart. I’m personally not a fan of using my stories to exact revenge on people. I did stuff like that when I was younger, and moving away from it was part of my growth.

Some writers will substitute or change a few letters around. I once read a story that had an evil billionaire named “Gill Bates” and another one that had a talk show host named “Tosh Rimbaugh.” Again, I’m not a fan of this when it’s done in a negative connotation. I feel like it’s especially petty when it’s done to someone famous, regardless of how I feel about the celebrity, as it takes the focus away from the story. But it’s your story and you’re entitled to name people how you’d like.

Character Names from “The Beautiful People”

I really struggled with naming the characters in “The Beautiful People” as they are not based on real people at all. Usually, my main character is at least loosely based on me, but not in this case. There are some characteristics that Ben and I share – we’re both Italian and have dark hair. But I purposely chose “Ben” as the name because I didn’t know a lot of “Bens” at the time I started writing it. His last name, “LeCosa” came from an alias I made up for myself as a kid: “Joe DiCosa”. I changed the name to “LeCosa” because it sounded better when the mysterious voice on the phone says it.

My initial name for Marcy was going to be “Lynne.” Ben’s wife was to play a completely different role in the story. I chose the name “Lynne” as her characteristics reminded me of someone I knew at that time with that name.  Steve was not part of the original story. I added him in as I didn’t like my original direction with Lynne.

As the character of Ben’s wife evolved, the name no longer fit what I had planned. So I decided to rename her. I chose Marcy as I was searching for a name that didn’t remind me of anyone I knew. I happened to be watching a Charlie Brown movie and realized I didn’t know anyone named Marcy. Ironically, I met someone with that name a few months after I had settled on, and committed to, the name.

Steve is also not based on anyone in particular. I have a good friend named “Steve” and know a lot of “Steves”. It just sounded like a good name for a friend, so that’s why I went with it..

AbSalon was a name that took me some time to come up with. I wanted something that sounded like an internet handle, or nickname, but was unique and also had some backstory. I forget exactly how I stumbled upon this name, but him being a Catholic Bishop stood out to me, as did other details about him (which I won’t share right now so I won’t spoil the book).

So those are my thoughts on character names. I’ve to hear what you think, so please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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