Advice for choosing meaningful and memorable names


The names of your characters matter a great deal.

There are unusual names which are now so imprinted on particular characters that it seems impossible to separate the two, such as Heathcliff, Hannibal, Simba and Cinderella. Each of these names reflects the character and the themes of their story.

Heathcliff is literally ‘heath’ and ‘cliff’ two wild natural places where he and his love feel so at home roaming. Hannibal unforgettably rhymes with cannibal. Simba is of course Swahili for Lion. Cinderella gets her name from ‘cinder’ the ashes that she is forced to sweep up, combined with ‘ella’ to show her feminine beauty.

Here are a few tips for how you can create character names that are meaningful and memorable:

The name should reflect the character’s personality

This can be done subtly or with a sledgehammer, after all Mr Right is a genuine real life name, as is Mrs Strong and Mr Pratt. If the character is from a foreign country it’s easy to use a strong trait as their name and the majority of people won’t outrightly notice, but their subconscious will catch on. The ones that do know the language will have a chuckle and get to feel very included.

A more subtle way to do this is to use meaning of name websites to find out the underlying meanings of common names and use them. Then only the smallest fraction of people will realise, unless they look it up, but you will have the satisfaction of knowing.

The name should reflect their class, age and setting

You may need to do a bit of research to make sure the name is historically and regionally accurate, but plenty of this kind of reflection will be instinctive. For example if I say the name ‘Mavis Baker’, you’re probably thinking elderly English lady. But if I say ‘Trent Roberts’ you’re more likely to be thinking young American man (and buff at that). If I say Cedric Codrington-Tumbler the VI, you know we’re talking about someone pretty posh.

Make sure they aren’t too similar

You can use first letters, length and contours of names to make sure they are all distinct, as well as making them clearly reflect the character’s personality or even physical demeanour. It’s frustrating for readers to have to think hard about whether it was Karen or Karol who stole the slice of chocolate cake, and it’s unnecessary to use names so similar unless you’re making a specific point by doing so.

Use a character name generator:

If you want some inspiration for a character name, then check out our instant character name generator.