You will likely need hundreds, if not thousands, of character names in your writing career. This includes everything from main characters, to secondary characters, to a character’s third cousin who’s mentioned only once. They all need names! Sometimes finding the right name can be both challenging and time-consuming. It’s made even harder if you don’t know where to look for help and inspiration.
The reality is, names are around us all day, every day. It’s just a matter of knowing where to look and paying attention when they present themselves to us.
Here are twenty places to look for character names:
Movies, TV shows and theater take a lot of people to bring them together. This includes talent in front of and behind the scenes. A lot of people means a lot of names! Browse IMDb pages and theater programs until you find some names you like.
2) Sports rosters
(I abuse this.) There are thousands of professional sports teams in the world and even more amateur and collegiate teams. These teams typically have websites that list every member of their team. These lists are just waiting for you to browse and they’re full of awesome character names. Not only that, it gives you something else to pay attention to when a game is on, whether you’re a sports fan or not.
This includes not only your favorite performers, but also their bands, engineers, and producers. Like with movies, the music industry is much more varied than just the headliners. The closer you look, the more names you’ll find.
4) Other stories
Not only is this a great way to find a name, it’s also a good way to honor your favorite writers and stories. You might not want to use a name that’s so unique it’s automatically associated with another story (like, say, Voldemort), but a more general or universal name (like Ron), you can probably get away with.
5) Every day conversations
One perk of being a writer is that eavesdropping is kind of part of the job. Keep your ears open for any unique names that may come up in conversations around you. Maybe even keep a list in a notebook or on your phone.
Yes, this one’s a little morbid, but it’s also effective. Cemeteries a full of names proudly displayed for you to find. So if you’re up for it, maybe go take a walk in a cemetery one day and see what fun names jump out at you.
7) Doctors’ offices
If you’ve ever been suck in a doctor’s office waiting room, you’ve likely heard plenty of names being called out. Take advantage of your wait and keep your ears open for some awesome character names.
8) Family and Friends
I don’t like to name any major characters after friends or family because I don’t want anyone to think a character is supposed to really be them. But I’ve found this to be great for characters who only show up once or twice, or who are mentioned but never appear. It gives me a quick name for a minimal character, and it gives my friends and family members a small shout out.
9) Bookstores and libraries
We’ve talked about acting, sports, and music, so of course, we’re going to talk about books too! Bookshelves are full of author names. Browse some shelves for names that jump out at you or pay tribute to some of your favorite writers.
10) Name tags
It’s likely that you come in contact with someone with a nametag daily. Any time you’re in a store, at a restaurant, or in an office setting, you’ll probably find a name tag. If this person is in some kind of customer service position, they’ll likely be wearing theirs. If they’re more business/professional, look on their door or on their desk. Also, if you ever go to a conference or convention of any kind, you’ll find name tags everywhere!
11) Sign-in Sheets
If you ever find yourself faced with a sign-in sheet, do a quick scan before you add your name. See if an interesting name jumps out at you.
12) Roll call
You’ll typically find this in an academic setting, but it can apply anywhere someone might do a roll call. If this happens to you, pay attention to all of the names–not just you’re own! You never know what cool and interesting names may be called out. Even if you think you know everyone in your class/group, people sometimes have different formal names than the names they go by, so don’t take anything for granted.
13) Social Media
We spend so much time on social media these days, we might as well use it to our advantage. This is another place that’s basically one giant list of names. If you think you’ve already covered your own feed, go browse someone else’s followers and see what names catch your attention.
14) Business Cards
Professionals hand out their names every day. Use this to your benefit. Accept every business card you’re offered for the name alone. If you ever have a reason to be at a job fair, collect as many cards as you can. If you don’t want to hold on to the cards, transfer the names to a list so you have potential character names all on one place.
Yearbooks are full of names organized by grade, sport, activity, and event. Odds are when you got your yearbook, you only really cared about yourself, your friends and your activities. Now’s the time to put the rest of the book to use! Browse through your old yearbooks and see what cool names you overlooked in the past.
16) College websites
Specifically the faculty pages. Most colleges list their faculty members so prospective students know who they’ll be learning from. This is another corner of the internet with nothing but lists of names for your consideration.
17) News stories (TV and Print)
This one doesn’t need much explanation. News stories are full of names. This applies to names you may hear on TV or read in print and online.
Another morbid one, but again, effective! Obituaries literally lead with names. Not only that, they also typically list the survivors of the deceased, so you’ll likely find at least 5-10 names per entry.
19) Food and product packaging
A lot of companies honor their founders on their packaging. You may not only find a really cool name, but a really cool story to go with it. This could help enhance your character or your book in some way.
20) Your Inbox
If your email inbox looks anything like mine, then not every message is from someone you know–especially if you check the spam folder. Instead of dismissing those message completely, consider the names in the “from” column. The perfect character name might have come to you!
I hope this helps you find some awesome character names!
Now it’s your turn: Where’s your favorite place to get your character names from? Tell me about it in the comments!
Pin it up!