Posted by: Kathy Temean | September 13, 2012

Finding the Perfect Name for Your Characters

So what do you do when you want to find that perfect name for each of your characters? 

A few years back my friend and author Anita Nolan pointed me to the The Social Security Office when she thought my character’s names were out dated.  I change a couple of the names, but you know there are just times when you really feel the name you chose was exactly right for that character, so I kept the ones that spoke to me.

But the Social Security Office’s database is a great resource.  They have a database of names with different search options.  Here are the links:

The most popular baby names by year.

Top 100 names searchable by state and year.

Top names of every decade back to the 1880s.

Top 200 most popular names for male and female babies born during 2000 – 2009.

Top 5 Names in Each of the Last 100 Years

You may need an ethnic name for one of your characters or you may want to consider the meaning of the name.  You can get this job done on Baby Zone.

Sometimes it is fun to use Alliteration when coming up with a character name – like Bilbo Baggins in the Hobbit.

Or you may consider using a name that rhymes – like Amelia Bedelia. Both of these techniques will help you find a name for your character that stands out.

Or you could use a theme for your character names, like making a number of characters have bird names, like Finch, Robin, Jay, Peewee, Magpie.  Or maybe some of your characters could be named after a Month – January, May, June, April or after flowers – Petunia, Rose, Sweetpea.

The Bible is a good place to look for old names.

The credits that show up at the end of a movie, you know the names of the people who work on the movie is a good places to find name.  The news is also great.  You can find lots of unusal names there.  Heck, you can open up the phone book to come up with a last name, too.  I would suggest writing down names when you hear one that is interesting.  One of my characters is named after a telemarketer who called me – just loved her name.  Plus, everyone who knows me, knows their first name or last name could end up in something I am writing.

To differentiate and help the reader identify each character, you should consider the amount of syllables in each name and the letter they start with.  

Here is a mistake I made with one of my characters.  My character’s name was Brianna, but when her friends were talking to her they called her Bree, but the adults refered to her as Brianna.  Actually, that is probably the way it would be in real life, but it was confusing to the reader.  Now she is just Bree. 

Last month Brian Klems at Writer’s Digest wrote a good article titled, The 7 Rules of Picking Names for Fictional Characters.  You may have seen it, but I thought I should point it out just in case you missed it.   The original source was author and Mystery Writer Elizabeth Sims. 

If you are interested in delving further into this subject, Anita Nolan will be speaking on this subject at the Pearl S Buck House in Pennsylvania this coming spring.  Don’t worry, I will remind you when I get a date from Anita.

The cute alligator at the top is by illustrator Sarah Dillard.  Do you have a name for him?  What type of things do you do to come up with character names?

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Kathy, you know me and lists 🙂 Actually, there were a few suggestions you made that I’ve also used, like the movie credits, and I once had a customer call me for face painting (many years ago) whose name I loved. I told her she had a great name for a character and that I’d love to use it in a book. She loved the idea that I might 🙂

    I have a bunch of links for baby naming, plus a couple of Baby Name books. I haven’t resorted to the phone book yet, though. I’ve always jotted down names, words, phrases and ideas whenever they occur to me or I come across things ’cause if I didn’t, they’d be gone forever!

    I don’t remember hearing about the Social Security site as a resource though. It’s a great idea. Thanks, Anita! I did read Brian’s article, too. I read everything that man writes, including his “The Life of Dad” blog which, if anyone doesn’t know of it, you should definitely subscribe. He never fails to make me laugh, and sometimes choke up, when reading about his family (3 little daughters).

    Anyway, thanks for the links!


  2. I’m guessing that the alligator’s name is PICKLES, although I doubt that name is in any of those nifty databases!


    • Cathy,

      You must have read the book.



  3. Great blog – and some wonderfully useful links – thanks. Most of my characters are made up names from my imagination – like Rumble for my kids book – Rumble’s First Scare or the Lord Elros and the travelling troubadour Guillem Ruet in my fantasy – The Rython Kingdom, which as you can see is another made up name. I like to have ‘new’ names for my characters it makes the story more interesting I think.


  4. Don’t forget about looking at American census reports! You will find a plethora of names from all over the work. I just wrote a post about finding and using Census Reports online. Did I mention the reports are free?
    Check it out on my blog:


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