What’s in a name? Choosing a Name for Your Fictional Character

NN is for Name

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” ~ William Shakespeare

“I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose would be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage.” ~ L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

What do you think? Does the name matter that much?

J.K. Rowling was a genius at naming fictional characters. Let’s look at a few:

• Albus Dumbledore
• Sirius Black
• Hermione Granger
• Bellatrix Lestrange
• Draco Malfoy
• Lucius Malfoy

The names are unique, so they make a lasting impression, but it’s also interesting to note that the meaning of the names fit the role of the characters.

These characters often acted as a guiding light or helper to Harry during his quest:

Albus: white, bright.
Sirius: brightest star.
Hermione: messenger.

These characters were part of the antagonistic force trying to prevent Harry from achieving his goal:

Bellatrix: warlike.
Draco: dragon.
Lucius: light.

Although the meaning of Lucius is similar to Sirius and Albus, it reminds most of us of that fallen angel, Lucifer.

Name meanings aside, don’t the following names fit the character perfectly?

• Neville Longbottom
• Ronald Weasley
• Rubeus Hagrid

Rowling also uses alliteration to make an impression with characters like Severus Snape, Luna Lovegood, and several others that I mentioned in the post All About Alliteration: Does It Almost Always Annoy.

Does the name need to be unique to be memorable? It’s interesting that most of the characters in J.K. Rowling’s novels have distinct names, but for the main character, Harry Potter, she chose a rather common name. But it’s not so common anymore, is it?

Let’s take a look at the names of other popular fictional characters.
J.R.R Tolkien also used alliteration with the character, Bilbo Baggins, but most of his characters are recognizable by one name. Consider the following:

• Frodo
• Gandalf
• Galadriel
• Aragorn
• Gollum
• Arwen
• Eowyn

I suppose this has more to do with the genre, though. If Frodo and Gandalf were named Frank and George, they would seem a little out-of-place in Middle Earth, wouldn’t they?

Here are a few other memorable fictional character names that come to mind:

• Arthur (Boo) Radley, To Kill a Mockingbird
• Jeremy Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
• Hannibal Lector, The Silence of the Lambs
• Jean Valjean, Les Miserables
• Ebeneezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol
• Lucie Manette, A Tale of Two Cities

Including some from recent novels:

• Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games
• Beatrice (Tris) Prior, Divergent
• Liesel Meminger– The Book Thief

How do you choose names for the fictional characters in your story? Do you consider the meaning of the name? What is your favorite fictional character name?

To see what other A to Z participants are blogging about this month, please click here to see a list of participants with links to their blogs.

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17 thoughts on “What’s in a name? Choosing a Name for Your Fictional Character”

  1. Completely agree – JK Rowling is a genius of character names. Another writer I love for his names is Dickens.

    For the book I’m working on at the moment, because it’s taking place in a fantastical society, I’m creating the names myself so that they don’t feel too grounded in our world, but I’m basing myself off nordic names so they all have a similar cultural feel to them.

  2. Sometimes, a character will “tell” me his or her name — although not necessarily all of it. Generally, I do not go by what a name means (except what doing so would be appropriate for that character’s culture), and sometimes the name turns out to be… ironic. When I need to brainstorm for names, my favorite source is the end credits of movies — more culturally diverse than phone books, and not as dependent on what’s popular/trendy as baby-names books.

  3. I have a baby naming book that I use if I don’t throw letters together. It helps craft a personality and path if I have a meaning behind the name. Though surnames are much harder to create than first names because you need them to flow. Just hurling a bunch of k’s, y’s, and l’s together can be an issue.

  4. On a trip to the Cotswolds, I copied the names off a monument marker honoring men from the village lost in the war. I used one of those names, Henry Bernard, in my novel Greening of a Heart as a nod to this fallen hero and to his English family. I googled the Italian Soccer team and mixed and matched from that list when I needed an Italian name. Names are important to me. It is difficult for me to embrace a character with a silly, trendy or overused name because I tend to dismiss them as inconsequential. Love the fact that as an author I can name characters my favorite old fashion names. Hannah is the main character in my novel, Caroline, Madeline, they all play a part.

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