My 5 Rules for Naming Book Characters

Have you ever wondered how authors choose names for their characters?

I'm always interested in how other authors do this. I like to know if their process in arriving at a name is like mine or something completely different.

Years ago, I wrote a time travel romance. Despite good feedback from editors, my agent never succeeded in placing the story with a publisher. (It was mixed genre, and I didn't have the creds to go "off genre" then.)

When I resurrected that manuscript and published it as a Kindle Vella, I had to change the hero's name. Originally, his name was Nicholas, but in the ensuing years, I ended up with a grandson named Nicholas. 

So I changed the hero's name, but I'm not happy with the new name. That's why I haven't yet published that Vella as an ebook. I'm still looking for a satisfactory hero name.


I have 5 or 6 "name" books, often called baby name books, that I page through. 

The first one I ever used was The Best Baby Name Book in the World.

This simple book is divided into Girls and Boys and gives the ethnicity of each name along with variations of each name.

The other books list names by popularity—in career fields, ethnicities, time eras, use in classical literature, historical origin, and other specific areas of interest.

Rule 1: Never choose a name for a main character that was already used.

I've kept a file with all names—first and last— and the books in which those names were used. I started the list after I realized I'd used the same surname in 2 unrelated novels.

2. Choose a name that reflects the year of birth.

One would never choose the name Ashley for a girl in a western historical because Ashley was a surname until the 1940s in America. Just as no one in today's world would name a girl Gladys, which was super popular in 1910, but fell out of favor in 1975.

3. Choose a name that reflects the character's ethnicity.

Luna would be an excellent choice for a Hispanic baby girl, but Mabel might not be a good choice unless there was a compelling reason to name the character against ethnicity. By the way, Mabel fell off the populariy list in 1964 but returned to the list in 2013.

4. Choose a name that reflects the character's parents socio-economic background.

If the parents are Harvard-educated lawyers, they probably wouldn't name a son Jim Bob or  a daughter Betty Lou.

5. Choose a name that reflects the parents' cultural background.

This one may be a more subtle. For instance, parents who love opera might select a girl's name like Evalina or Lucia, not Tiffany or Lexi, or Damon for a boy, but not Chad.

Someone in the world of fine art or classical music might choose names reflective of those cultural experiences.

6. Never name a character after a real person's full name or use a real business name.

If you want to use a real business name like Joe's Shoesyou must have a signed release from the owner that legally entitles you to use the name. Obviously there are exceptions. 

Many years ago, How to Bulletproof Your Manuscript was published by Writers Digest Books. It's out of print, and I couldn't find a newer alternative. You may think you have the license to say anything in the wild world of the internet including people's real names, places of business, etc., but that is simply NOT true. Be smart and don't set yourself up for a lawsuit.


Choosing names for characters, pets, businesses, towns, etc. is so much fun. Choosing the "right" name helps a character come alive. So get 1 or 2 name books and also check the internet.

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