Character Names

I was starting the outline of my story and wanted to know how other people handle naming their characters; primary, secondary and fluff characters?

The Tools/Writing Tools/Name Generator menu command. :wink:

I am new to Scrivener, as in I downloaded it yesterday, what is that of which you speak? :open_mouth:

Try that menu command from inside a project, in Tools, by the Window menu.

Thanks, I found it!! Best tool ever!!!

When I write my own work, I am a pantser: I neither plot a storyline nor have a list of characters, places, etc in mind.

I work on the basis that if a character has the strength to force their way into the story in the first place, they will arrive with their own name (and tell me what their name is).

I have never used a name generator or had to stop to think about what a character should be called.

Writing down their name for the first time is as instinctive for me as I hope it is for you to know what word is missing at the end of this ________.

I also like to include one character in each story whose name is not given in the text. This, I think, allows each reader to imbue that character’s life with additional layers of their own personal conceits.

All characters should be defined by each reader’s prejudices, passions, and perceptions. If readers share a single unnuanced view of a character (let alone of a story), I feel I have failed the character and the readers.

IMO, all characters and stories should be open to interpretation… … ing-minds/

Sans exegesis, a novel is reduced to being a directory of events.

I use a mixture of techniques. If I have a general feel for the character up front and know more or less what their role will be in the story, I do a reverse look-up of name meanings ( … x=6&gndr=2) and peruse the list until a name jumps out at me.

With other characters, I do what Briar Kit does.

Like Briar Kit I “pants” when I write however the names of characters are important and I put considerable effort into naming them. Occasionally I use Scrivener’s in-built name generator feature but have never taken one name from the list. What I have done is take the forename from one generated suggestion and the surname from another to create a single name for use in the novel. The greatest value of the name generator is for naming characters from other cultures than the one a novel is set in.

Couldn’t agree more. If it is a character from my own culture, from a time period I’m familiar with and with certain class and character traits… OK, the name usually creeps upon me. But if it is a Polish Jew, that have a name, but as a member of the Belgian resistance take another name that has a resemblance to his birth name. It is suddenly not so obvious. Then a name generator and some Wikipedia searching can be very useful.

Right now I am attempting to write a military science fiction story, so there are lots of grunts that need names. While I know that many of these soldiers will die, I feel I owe them a name and some personality. That said, I don’t feel like these characters necessarily have names in my head, though they’ve got DEFINITE personalities. Right now I am still world building, so I might change my tune once I get started.

Dear Fellow Writers,
I write historical fiction and fiction/non fiction about sheepdogs. Whenever possible I use real names because they ground my fiction and force my integrity. I took all the names in my first historical, The Butte Polka, which took place in Butte Montana in 1946 from a list of men killed in the mines in that year. For Jacob’s Ladder, a civil war novel, I used names from the regiments my fictional characters might have joined. When describing sheepdog trials, I wrote real handlers with a copy of the page where I’d use their names and invited them to suggest the dog they’d be running. Interestingly, some handlers chose a dog who’d been dead for a decade or so.

To chose the name for a Virginia slave dealer, I went to the University of Virginia’s special collectios and found (but didn’t read) the records of Silas Omohundru and used his name for a fictional character who fell in love with one of his slaves. A couple years after J.L. was published a friend said, “How did you know about Omohundru?”
“I didn’t.”
Turns out the real Omohundru fell in love with a slave, had children by her and freed her and them before he died - in the same year my fictional character died.

Using real names gets spooky some times.

Donald McCaig

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Recently, I’ve been harvesting names from all the spam emails (for ED and other things) I keep getting.

How could I not use “Talia Wadlington” for a character set in Edwardian times?

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That’s also what I used to do, when I was on Windows. The porn-spam names were particularly inventive. (Since I moved to OS X, disappointingly the quantity and quality - at least of the names - has declined steeply. Not sure why.)

As a relatively new football fan (soccer for my fellow Americans), I’ve been using soccer player names. Great amount of diversity. I also like to pick out a picture of the character so I have a good feel for who they are, even if I never describe them in detail – at least I know mentally and avoid incorrect hints.

Depends on genre for me. In fantasy, I like to borrow from Hebrew words and give them a twist.


Didn’t even know about the Scrivener facility which is fine if all you want is a name.

I use a website called Fake Name Generator because it does what Scrivener does but also creates the beginnings of a profile which includes things like fake address, phone number, birthday, age, star sign (some care), email (real), employer, height, weight, blood type, car they drive and favourite colour.

Much of it is pointless (especially to science fiction writers like me) but not all of it and there’s a bulk name generator which allows you to download many names into a spreadsheet which, assuming you know anything about spreadsheets, allows you to manipulate it and make some of the useless data useful. I downloaded around 3000 names and used the address data, which is fairly pointless in my scenario, to create a home planet for each name and so allow me to have a “cast of thousands” and so a way of referring back to minor characters and keep them consistent. Of course, I don’t really have thousands of characters but hopefully you get the idea … in my first book I am almost certainly up in the low hundreds but in the second and third I will likely have many more because they will feature an awful lot of people fighting and dying.



There’s also the Character Sketch Template Sheet that can be used via Profile > New from Template > Character Sketch. As the character sketch template is a Scrivener document it can be revised and enhanced to suit one’s own interest. My own updated template includes all those details you get from an external website plus almost 40 more pages of prompt points for character details include MBPT questions (and a link to a web site) and down to potentially trivial details like favourite colour of toenail polish. Of course one can use the half-page pro forma template that is part of Scrivener.

Wow! :open_mouth: I’ve been using Scrivener for a few years now and I had NO idea that was there.

Back when I used to write, I would pay particular attention to cadence in selecting character names: … haracters/

I also liked having some form of meaning behind names. The Dark had a police officer called Nick Scott investigating a kid with acute fear of the dark (i.e., nyctophobia, also known as scotophobia).

A good example of this I’ve seen elsewhere is the film Gattaca, where pretty much the etymology of the major characters first names gives hints at their roles:
Vincent Freeman: conquering… free man
Jerome Eugene Morrow: saved… well-born… the next day
Anton: priceless / praiseworthy
Irene: peace

The Name Generator in the Windows version of Scrivener is a lot cooler than the Mac one, and lets you look these meanings up, or even search for names by meaning.

I’ve only just started on Scrivener so I haven’t really used the name generator. However, since I have a multinational cast I tend to research their origins and use names from those regions. Some of my characters adopt aliases so I would pick things that speak to them as characters.

Sometimes a role will come before anything else, so I allude to it with the name as well.

Here are a few examples

Cormac Baines: Son of Azrael, the angel of death.
Cormac means ‘son of the wheel’ or ‘son of the crow’ which fit both the position and the fact that in my version he had black wings and the fact that time is often compared to a wheel.
Baines was referring to the fact that in the Scottish folktale ‘Milk white Doo’ the dove pronounces bones as banes in his song.

Lilith Blake: This is a name taken on by the character deliberately. Lilith is the name of Adam’s first wife in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and refers to her own rebellion against her mother, while Blake means ‘dark’ referring to her hair.

Kara Corvo: A witch with a crow for a familar, a name given to her by the above character. Kara is a pun on a European name meaning ‘precious’ and the Japanese word ‘Karasu’ meaning ‘crow’. Corvo is the genus crows and ravens fall under.

Rosemary: A name given to a runaway by another character. It means ‘flower of the sea’ and refers to the fact that she seemed at home working on a ship.

Asian names: This has its own note because of the mechanics involved in their writing. I have a moderate understanding of Japanese so I’d build their names from Kanji.

Kairan Seiryu: 青竜海嵐 Seiryuu Kairan A sea-dwelling storm dragon of Asian inspiration. The name uses the characters for (as typed in Kanji) Blue, Dragon, Sea, Storm. He’s known to the island dwellers in his domain as Kairyu (which simply means ‘Sea Dragon’)