I find that a problem that I run into quite often is the fact that I can't create names that sound real, but also have a nice ring so that they fit the character. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to come up with names that fit the setting and everything else? I've already attempted using the internet to no avail.

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    I suffer from the same problem. I do not yet have quite such a detailed method as what; instead, I try and try and try to come up with a name until I finally give up. Inspiration strikes the next day. Unfortunately, this inspiration usually comes from somewhere, so if you do come up with a name, do a quick Google search to make sure it isn't already used in something popular. I've caught myself in the nick of time this way more than once. Commented Jun 5, 2015 at 5:41
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    The problem is, names don't fit settings. Names acquire associations with settings. In the final analysis, names don't really matter. My advice: pick a name at random and write with it until you think of a better one. Then search and replace.
    – Robusto
    Commented Jun 5, 2015 at 15:17

7 Answers 7


What I do:

I start with either a last name or a first name. Which one I start from depends on which one the narrator uses to identify the character, because that is what the reader will read most often. Katniss Everdeen is Katniss first; Dr. Henry Jekyll is Dr. Jekyll first.

With this starting point, and the knowledge of the character's cultural background, I go through a list of first or last names from that culture. There are books and websites that list these. I have collected extensive lists from the web using a self-coded crawler.

I also educated myself on how sounds of names are perceived. The meaning of names, that some writers go by, is usually meaningless to a reader. Unless the meaning is obvious, as in Brewer or Shoemaker, the meaning is unknown to the reader and does not influence their perception of the character. What does, are the sounds of the name, and there is a small volume of literature on that, some by linguists, some by marketers specializing in brand name creation.

So, with this knowledge of my character, of the "meaning" of the sounds of names and with whatever gut feel for language I have, I go through my list of names and weed out all the names that don't fit. I do this in a good text editor that allows grep search and replace. Usually there are certain first letters and name endings that I can exclude right from the start. Often there are also letters or letter combinations that I don't want in the name, so I delete all those names from my file.

The rest of the names I go over one by one until I have either one clear winner left or a handful of contestants. This process takes a couple of days, because after some time I lose all feeling for names and have to do other things before I can come back to my list.

Once I have a (few) first (or last) name(s), I do the same for the last (or first) name. The only difference is that I use search and replace to add the first name I found to every last name in my list and then go over and weed out the combinations.

I find the name of my protagonist first, then the love interest, then the antagonist and then the other characters in descending order of importance. I make sure that every character's name begins with a different letter from the alphabet and that the names sound and look clearly different. Sometimes one or more names are known to me for some reason, then I start with these.

My fantasy names are usually real world names or real words from a foreign language or variations thereof, so I use the same process only with a different corpus. For place names I use lists of placenames from all over the world. Sometimes I translate these. I chose place names by meaning. My favourite place name is "Lost Boy River" (in the US).


I too am having problems with this.

My way of solving the problem is to start with the setting. Is your plot set in a real place? If so, you can look for names from that region. If you like, you can do some research about the origins and meanings of those names, so you can be sure they fit your character. I usually use http://www.behindthename.com/ for this.

If you're writing fantasy, you can still use real names. Diana Wynne Jones did this all the time. "Harry Potter" is also a regular name. G.R.R. Martin horribly misspells names (Eddard, Jaime) but you can still recognise them. Those methods work particularly well if your fantasy novel is set somewhere that is inspired by a particular RL place and period.

If you're writing science fiction, there's no reason for earth characters not to use the same names we do. Names like "John" and "Michael" have been around for several thousand years, they aren't going to disappear.

For somebody who is non-human, or deliberately not any of our cultures, it might work best to device some naming convention, and then follow it. It might be, for instance that male names always start with 'S, end with 'k', and have five letters, while female names follow the pattern of 'T'-consonant-something'. (That used to be Vulcans in Star Trek: Spock, Sarek, T'Pau, T'Pring.) At the very least, you can pick some phonemes that would be more common, so it would sound like all the names are from the same language.

You can use Latin to create names that don't sound too foreign, and have a hidden meaning as a genius bonus. Plant names and flower names are also great (Katniss being a famous example), and you can use them for hidden meanings as well.

Or you can just take a Scrabble set, put it all in a bag, and pull out letters at random until you find a combination that you like. That has worked for me too, when all else failed.

You should remember that you don't have to enforce a "One Steve Limit" - several characters can have the same name. It's realistic, if you think about it. And you can forget everything about meaningful names if you like - names are given by the parents, to a baby who has no defining characteristics yet, and half the time they don't know what a name means. At least, that's how it works in RL.

Most important, don't let the lack of character names stop you from writing. You can always use temporary names, and run Ctrl+r when you come up with something better. Frodo used to be 'Bingo' in Tolkien's early drafts, and Aragorn started out as a hobbit named 'Trotter'.

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    That last paragraph is sage advice. The only really important parts to the choice then becomes that it is (a) something you can spell consistently, and (b) something that won't show up as a word in other contexts. (So don't name a character Ford if your story involves cars. In fact, don't name a character Ford, period...) Both of those then are simply means to the end that you'll be able to accurately find all occurrences throughout the manuscript, at which point you can replace them once you think of better names. I've been known to use the NATO phonetic alphabet for that purpose...
    – user
    Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 19:37
  • @MichaelKjörling Ford Prefect was a great character. ;) Commented Oct 18, 2018 at 19:42

Sometimes I like to look into the inspiration for the character, the characters background story, or their personality. For example, I have a character in my novella who is on the LGBTQ+ and I borrowed his last name from a long dead gay author.

Another character I named is based on a greek tragedy that has become a regular trope in many manners of fiction.

Some characters names can be puns, or a clever play on words that I like the reader to figure out, and give them a laugh.

You could also look up at a list of names, and surnames from different countries.

A slightly more morbid approach would be to look through the obituaries.


I would begin by looking at what the character does, either for a living, or in their spare time. Many modern surnames (and some first names) are based on occupation. For instance (black)Smith or tailor (Taylor). The second thing to look at is attributes describing the person long (tall), short, swift, etc.

By the time you have written a complete description of the person, several adjective-names should jump out at you. Choose the ones that create the best name while describing the character.


Personally I avoid picking names based on their "meaning" it's lame and highly unoriginal. Also names don't affect your personality at all, so why would it define your character.

What I do is just collect names/surnames when I read a name somewhere I find interesting I just save them in a document. Then when I need a name for a character I just browse through them.

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    Tell Dickens or Rowling that names don't affect personality. Having names that reflect the personality of the character runs deep in literature.
    – user16226
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 12:27
  • names don't affect on personality directly, but will affect other people's perception on that character, hence affect on the characters in a subtle way. Names are not used by the owners, but the callers
    – Ooker
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 12:31

I use a few methods for finding a name for a character - I like to have names that have the right kind of sound and / or also have the right kind of meaning behind them. Though it's not always possible.

  1. I quite often start with going to baby naming sites and searching for meanings to find out which names come up. They often let you filter by country or similar, so you can get the right 'kind' of name.

  2. I'm rather fond of just entering words with the right meaning into Google translate and picking some of the different language options to see what the word sounds and looks like. Sometimes I might use that as a base and change it slightly to sound better.

  3. Scientific names - like Katniss, scientific names can often have nice meanings that people might not know right away but will give you kudos once you're a best selling author and people start hunting for that sort of thing : ) Also it gives you a nice warm smugness to know that stuff's there.

  4. Maps - I'm British and British place names are very often weird and wonderful. I'm sure this applies across the world. You can pick a country that has the right kind of sound and feel for your character and zoom into Google maps and browse the words.

Hope that helps!


If a you're looking for a real-world name, and have a general feeling of what you're looking for, you could try using a name recommendation tool. Rather than going through long lists, you can type in a few options you are considering, and then browse a focused recommendations list.

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