Naming Your Protagonist
Fact: writing is hard.
And one of the hardest thing a writer ever does in writing is finding a suitable name for their protagonist (let alone anyone the rest of their cast of characters).
For example, Talya Nightingale was not always Talya Nightingale (#WhoIsTalyaNightingale). It took a long time for that name to evolve, but now I can’t imagine calling her anything else. In fact, Talya’s name is used nearly 700 times in the fourth draft of my manuscript.
Sometimes, the name of a character comes to mind pretty much immediately, but other times, like a month ago when I had to name Fallon—the lead in my upcoming weekly serial that is not a fairy tale, but does contain fairies—it was the most frustrating 45 minutes of my life. Want to see my frustration-themed stream of consciousness? Click here.
Names are immensely important to any character. It’s the series of letters you use to represent them most often in the story, and is quite literally, who they are. It should go without saying that it’s not something you want to tread lightly on.
And of course there are about a thousand roadblocks between you and the name you finally settle on. You can think of a name that might work but it’s someone you know and like, but not enough to want to name a character after them. Or it’s someone you know and hate and don’t want to see their name 700 times in your manuscript. It could be someone who wronged your best friend and you’re offended by the name’s existence on their behalf. It could by any number of things.
So hit Continue Reading for four ways (and one bonus!) to ease the angst of naming your protagonist.
1 Use Baby Naming Books Or Websites
Obviously baby books are a massive repository of exactly what you need in order to name your protagonist. If you are not a parent, ask yours for the one they used when they were naming you. If you are a parent, then there’s a pretty good chance you have at least one lying around the house/apartment/renovated school bus. Have a friend who recently spawned a child? Ask to borrow theirs.
There’s nothing wrong with the old standby of opening to a page and picking a name out at random.
On baby naming websites, the glories of the Internet can help narrow things down by gender, name popularity in a given year, and the origin of its meaning. That’s actually how I named one of my other characters from the #WhoIsTalyaNightingale novel.
2 Use A Random Name Generator
Have something a little more specific in mind and need ideas? Try a website that generates names for you.
Writing a period piece? Google ‘insert-historical-era-here name generator’. Writing science fiction? Google ‘science fiction name generator’. Fantasy float your boat? You guessed it, Google ‘fantasy name generator’. Fortunately for you, the Internet boasts any and every name generator you can imagine, so go forth, find your favorite, and start searching.
There are a lot of great ones out there that will help you narrow things down.
3 Use Pinterest
I know, I know, Pinterest is mostly regarded as a repository for crafting, food recipes, and makeup and fashion inspiration, but what most people get wrong about Pinterest (including me for a very long time), is that it’s NOT a social media platform like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, but is actually a graphic-based search engine.
If you’re more into visuals, you can search Pinterest like you would Google Images (or, if you’re like my dad, Google it on Bing or whatever it is you do on Bing) and get any types of images and graphics to find something that will jump at you.
I myself have curated a Pinterest board containing a plethora of name ideas for characters, which you can access here.
4 Mine From Unfinished Projects
Spoiler alert: remember at the beginning of this piece when I reflected on the angst that was the 45-or-so terrible minutes it took me to name Fallon? Go ahead, scrolls back up, I’ll wait.
Here’s the thing: I didn’t actually end up picking his name from a name generator.
I actually picked him out of an old writing project that I put together a few years ago. I’m probably never going to write it, or am never going to write it as I originally intended. The story itself is solid and may eventually become a thing, but not now, when I have Talya Nightingale and her ridiculous life at the top of my priority list.
But my point is that I have an entire document containing a bunch of character names that are just gathering metaphorical dust on my hard drive.
Like me, if you created a character, there was something about him or her or them that you liked, so if the old project is never going to go anywhere, there’s nothing wrong with taking the name and using it in your current project.
And as a side note, you can do that with plots too. One of the major upcoming plot arcs in the #WhoIsTalyaNightingale series came from another story that I’m also not going to finish as originally intended.
You are your own best source of inspiration, so go forth and name!
Bonus! Things To Keep In Mind As You Go Forth And Name
Think about the era and location that your story is set in. Make sure that you narrow your search to a name appropriate for it.
If name meanings are important to you and your story, maybe don’t name your hero something that means Evil McEvilest. Well, unless you’re going with irony, and then you can name the antagonist something that means Goody McHero.
The name should make sense when speak aloud (or at least easy to pronounce). I can’t be the only one who didn’t know how to say Hermione Granger’s first name until after the first Harry Potter movie came out.
Also keep in mind the names of your other characters when naming new ones. Already have two characters named Rick and Rachel in your story? Maybe reconsider before you name a third character Rebecca or Ronnie (try Becca or the full Veronica instead).
And no one ever went wrong with a little alliteration. Keeping with the Harry Potter theme, see: Severus Snape, Minerva McGonagall, Madam Malkin, Rowena Ravenclaw, Salazar Slytherin, etc.
Want more tips?
Do you have a question about writing that you want me to answer? Leave a comment below! (I’m also answering questions in the Facebook group. Hop on over and say hi!)