Naming characters has always been a little difficult for me. I’ll get a story idea and immediately start jotting down some notes, but I’ll usually use a few standby names for the characters like John or Cathy until I can come up with some better names. Or, in my early notes, I’ll even use words like: husband, wife, father, mother, etc. At the very beginning of a story idea I like to get the notes down pretty quickly, much like when I write a first draft, just getting it down quickly and worrying about changes and editing later. Later, as I go over the notes again, I begin to form an outline and character bios, changing the names of the characters to what they will eventually be.

So how do we come up with names for our characters? Maybe the name for a character pops into your mind right away. That’s happened to me before, but not very often. You may juggle through names in your mind until one just sounds right for the character.

One thing that has helped me is to have a list of names for characters. I’ve heard of writers grabbing a phone book (what’s that, right?) and scrolling through the list of names until a name jumps out at them. I’ve heard of other authors who stare at their bookshelves, searching for a first or last name, or combination of names, that hits them.

Recently, I created a long list of first names, and another list of last names. I also created a list of names that I’ve already used in my books and stories so that I’m not using the same names too often (like John and Carla). Maybe it’s impossible not to use the same name twice, especially if you’ve written a lot of short stories and books, but you may not want to use the same name too often.

You can get creative with names, and sometimes a name can seem to identify with a character, but you want to be careful that you’re not making a parody of a character (unless that is your intention).

Naming places like fictitious towns or a business, etc. can be tough, but it can also be fun. If you come up with a name of a fictitious town or business in that state or country, you may want to do a quick internet search to make sure that the name of your fictitious town doesn’t really exist. For instance, let’s say you want to call a small town in Nevada Devil’s Elbow, you may want to make sure that there’s not already a town called Devil’s Elbow if you want your town to be totally fictitious. Or you could go with common town names like Haven and Jackson.

Using lists of names has helped me, especially with keeping track of names I’ve used more than once in stories and novels, and I hope it helps you too.