How do you choose your character names?

About Writing: How Do You Choose Your Character Names?

Choosing a name for your character shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it really is, isn’t it? You want it to be just right, to speak to something deeper, to suggest something about them as a person, or to conjure up allusions to other things that speak to the audience on a guttural level. Or is that just me?

Sometimes the right name pops into your head almost immediately, and sometimes you have to dig around for days to come up with something that feels right. Sometimes you search in vain and end up just settling for one.

How do you choose your character names?
How do you choose your character names?

When I started writing my novel about an everyday man who decides to indulge his fantasies, I quickly settled on the name Keith. It was deliberately mundane, and sat well as the title, Keith: A Novel.

Then, when I was looking for a name for the antagonist of In The Can, I wanted to allude to a moment in history, linking her to the great early days of United Artists. I opted to give her the surname Spenser, though not a direct reference to Charlie Chaplin, enough of a clue to satisfy my needs.

Sometimes, for a script, to help me imagine the character’s voice, I will use a placeholder name that references an actor or a character in an existing show. So, if I want someone with a quick wit and scathing sarcasm, I might temporarily use Gregory, just to keep House at the back of my mind (not forgetting that House is himself a synonymous reference to Holmes).

Then there are the times when it’s a real struggle. When I first devised my latest comedy drama spec script, I got stuck on a surname for my main character, and couldn’t find a first name to fit. After lots of back and forth, I settled on a first name that I liked, mostly because it spoke to an important aspect of her character. But it didn’t sit right with the surname, so I had to start again with that. What I finally came up with also spoke to her character, and together they felt right.

So, how do you choose your character names?

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