Quick-Naming Characters: Any tips or tools?

I’ve been thinking of a couple of short story concepts to submit to my teacher but one thing that always takes up a ton of my time for the first draft is naming my characters.

I like the idea of how a character and his/her name seem to relate but that’s more of a thing for novels. Still, I’d like my characters’ names to have something that distinguishes them even it is just for a brief one-shot.

Anybody here got an effective way of coming up with such names? :o


Ethnic graveyards are especially useful. Not too far from our city, there is an awesome German graveyard (all the verses are in German!), and lots of unusual and sometimes pretty names. (There’s also a a beautiful and haunting original poem on one of the headstones, which I copied down and asked my German friend to translate with me–it’s thought-provoking.)

In Raleigh, North Carolina, there is a graveyard used almost exclusively by African Americans, and it’s fascinating. Goes back to before the Civil War. Many of the names are very beautiful and exotic.

If you’re looking for a name for a character that has a certain ethnicity, try to find the local graveyard associated with that ethnic group.

Any graveyard can be a rich source of distinctive names. I’m not sure if you’re too young to know about the great television show of the late 1960s, Dark Shadows (Johnny Depp is in the process of doing a movie of it). The writers combed the graveyards in New England for unusual names, and found a lot of them, including the name of the most famous character on the show, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp will play this role, one of his childhood heroes). Other names from the show include Joshua, Angelique, Josette, Julia, Quentin, Gerard, Daphne, Millicent, Jamison, Naomi, Victoria, Phyllis, Gregory, etc. etc.–ahhh, memories! These people were very real to me growing up. Cool names, eh? (They were back in the 1960s–now you see them all the time.)

Good luck!

Or you could go on a naming website that has the etymology of names. Personally, I like using this site to name characters:


^It has many languages to choose from, and almost all the common names for that language.

I came to this thread to give a link to Behind the Name! One of my favorite sites :slight_smile:

They have a feature called a “random renamer” (behindthename.com/random/) where you can select what language you want the name to be, or if you want it to be a mythological, historical, biblical, rapper, goth, etc. name. Then just submit it and it will give you a few names. You can then click on the names to learn etymologies, famous bearers, popularities, and pronunciations :slight_smile:

I have *The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook *(second edition) and a baby naming book but my best has been going to the library and looking in the phone book from another city… BUT I use the name as it’s written in the phone book. For example, Adam Randall becomes Randy Adams. Women’s names are a little tougher, but Elizabeth Foster could become Liz Forester or Beth Frost.

Good ideas, all. I would second the phone book idea. It seems sort of silly, but it is definitely helpful!

Another possibility is to simply take a character trait and/or word and simply rearrange the letters in anagramic fashion. There are some websites that help you to do that.

Whoa! Thanks guys! I’ll give your ideas a whirl! :smiley:

Are you an Edgar Lee Masters fan? :wink:

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