How Do You Name Your Original Characters?

How do you name your original characters?

-Do you use names you’ve heard and like?
-Do you draw upon a list of names you like that you’ve compiled?
-Do you use a random generator?
-Do you use your friends’ names?
-For fantasy names, do you use an in’or’din’ate am’oun’t of apos’trop’hes?
-Do you use overblown fictional names like Anastasia Steele (from 50 Shades)?
-Do you use underwhelming fictional names like Bill Smith or James Williams?
-Do you let your cat walk across your keyboard to come up with something?
-Does this not apply to you because you focus on historical games featuring real people?

I ask because I’m always interested in how other authors do things. :+1:

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Never wholesale because rarely do I want to inflict my game plots on people I know.

-Do you draw upon a list of names you like that you’ve compiled?

I sometimes peruse a baby-name website if I want a specific name that starts with G, or if I have no clue I’ll search names that mean something relevant.

-Do you use a random generator?

I have used an anagram generator to inspire ideas based on several trait words I enter - often not using the complete anagram, but just to get names that aren’t variations of John Smith.

In Cannery Vale: The Innkeeper’s name was always ‘Don Gary’ “but my friends call me Ollie!” - Donald Theodore Oliver Gary, or ‘Don T. “Ollie” Gary’. I intended to put that in somewhere - likely on the gift basket, but I don’t believe I ever got it in the release.

In Final Girl: In the complicated meta-fiction all the characters are played by actors in a movie, and their “real” surnames are all indicative of colors, which is a nod to the board game Clue.

-Do you use your friends’ names?

Not wholesale. I may associate a first name of someone I know with a trait, but if I build characters based on people I know, I will purposely not match the name except if it’s satire of a public figure or celebrity.

I will namedrop actual people in a game, usually as an easter egg or acknowledgement when they are helpful and not really as characters you interact with. If you examine enough hallway doors in Fair there is a math classroom with “Mr. Brush” listed as the teacher. Transparent also contains a good number of shout-outs.

-For fantasy names, do you use an in’or’din’ate am’oun’t of apos’trop’hes?

Only in cases of satire, like Baker of Shireton. but I will occasionally use an apostrophe to mix up a long list of names. My current real-world favorite name is Aislinn De’ath who was in Shapeshifting Detective and …Dr. Dekker.

-Do you use overblown fictional names like Anastasia Steele (from 50 Shades )?

Again, usually when it’s satire or to make a point. In Fair I worked for a while to come up with an appropriate “author” sounding pseudonym for the PC.

-Do you use underwhelming fictional names like Bill Smith or James Williams?

Not on purpose unless I specifically don’t want the character to stand out. Bob the Hobo in Baker of Shireton was a placeholder (named after the example character in Eric Eve’s conversation extensions) that ended up sticking because it amused me.

-Do you let your cat walk across your keyboard to come up with something?

I’ve had a cat delete an entire page before I saved it by walking on the keyboard, so not if I can help it.


I’ve got a steampunk novel series that’s 6 books long - that’s a lot of characters, and it’s important for me that all of their names remain fairly distinct in the minds of my readers.

I take two things into consideration:

  1. What names were popular in the year of the character’s birth wherever they happened to be living.
  2. What their family ethnic and cultural background is.

Most of my characters will have a “common” name, a few standouts will have more unique or rare names. But in all cases I try, hard, to avoid repeating both first names and surnames by tracking all of the characters introduced in a spreadsheet.

I also pay attention to the “feel” of the names and the sound of the names, to make sure they have a good rhthym that fits the character. This is a bit more esoteric and artistic, but just speak the names and pay attention to how it feels, where the stresses are. Dave Anderson = BAH BAH-ba-ba, etc.


This is a great idea!

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I write mainly comedies, so I don’t tend to worry too much about the names I use being realistic, but it depends on the project. I like unusual names and names that are fun to say out loud. Underwhelming ones don’t interest me much.

I like assonance; Donald McRonald, Plugalug, Hubert Booby, and alliteration; Professor Peter Pettibone.

My favourite name I’ve invented is Major Hilary Buff-Orpington. Buff-Orpington is a breed of chicken, so many of the aristocratic characters in Alias ‘The Magpie’ ended up being named after birds; Emerick Abercorn Welsummer, Sir Humphrey Leghorn, Hermes Perroquet, Doctor Cornelius Drake.

I named the butler in Alias ‘The Magpie’ Hives, as a homage to the Marx Brothers film Animal Crackers. I am a huge fan of the Marx brothers! This inspired me to name all of the long-suffering staff of Bunkham Hall after ailments; Amos Bunyon (bunion), Harry Boyle (boil), Mrs Croup, Constable Cramp. It was important to me that they were also believable names.

I have a new story in the works which is set in the 1970s, and I’ve taken pains to ensure that the characters all have the sort of names that people their age would have had at that time.

I have never yet written a fantasy game, but I would like to. My favourite fantasy writer is Clark Ashton Smith, so I would probably try to come up with baroque and faintly ludicrous names like his; Avoosl Wuthoqquan, Tsathoggua, Hziulquoigmnzhah. I’m not sure how well these would go down in a parser game, though!


Marx Bros for sure. I love the names of Groucho’s characters like Rufus T. Firefly from Duck Soup.
Re: the 70s, a friend of mine once opined that it seems that most names from the 70s are one syllable.
And if your name is more than one syllable, you have to shorten it by law. We saw this watching old 70s sitcoms and we swear that’s the case.

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I’ve worked in the television industry since the mid-nineties, and very early on I noticed that certain names kept cropping up among the veterans of that industry. I’ve met two lighting cameramen called Hugh, two called Ray (plus one sound recordist), and at least three engineers called Brian. Pure coincidence, but it struck me as funny at the time.

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