On Naming Characters

When developing an idea for a novel, one of the first things that comes to mind is the main character(s). Boy or girl? Fearless or hesitant? Smart or dim-witted? Thrust into a heroic position, or steps into it willingly? Such attributes will drive the story, for the characters make decisions based on their characteristics.

Once the attributes are figured it (or maybe even before), a big question becomes: what should I name these characters?

You have your standard names, of course: Tom, Nancy, Jennifer, and so on. You also have your make-believe names which often reside in fantasy novels. But most names begin somewhere. Most have an origin, and most have a meaning. Therefore, this meaning is something author's can consider when naming characters, to add a layer of depth to personality and purpose within the novel.

An example that instantly comes to mind is Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Games. Peeta Mellark, the Boy with the Bread, is named after peeta bread. Cato, the District 2 tribute, is named for a Roman politician and general who wrote the first history of Rome. Every single character name has a meaning or association that fits its character and adds a level of interest.

Characters in our novels have history, but so do their names. Whether it be a specific meaning or a relation to another person or object, choosing the right name is essential for a piece of fiction. And looking up etymology (name meanings) can be really fun for the readers, too!

So even if there's a name you want to use just because it sounds cool or seems to fit a character, considering researching the name's meaning and history. Make sure the etymology fits with your view of the character, and it will add an extra dimension to your characters and story!

Have a great weekend everyone,


  1. Great post, Stephanie. And a fabulous reminder that we can add subtle layers to our characters and novels by choosing some small details wisely.

    I am in the process of penning a chapter book. My character names all have a bit of meaning behind them, though in a different way than sheer entymology.

    For example, my MC's last name is Bloom. And yes, she does blossom over the course of the manuscript. My boy MC sports the last name of Niggle, as in that little feeling that doesn't let go.

    My YA MC? Gemini Baker. A very loaded name for her situation, yet not immediately obvious.

    For me, my characters generally name themselves. And almost always correctly!


  2. I remember in 6th grade we had a unit on names...we looked into Lois Lowry's names in The Giver and some of her other books and ended by secretly stalking a classmate and giving them a new name based on their personality, interests, etc.