16 March 2024

Choosing the perfect Character Names

Daniel Jaems Director
Selecting the perfect character name for your romance novel. From the essence of naming to engaging your readers, our guide covers foundational tips, intermediate strategies, and advanced insights for creating captivating names across genres.

Selecting the ideal character names in romance fiction can be an art and a significant challenge, particularly when navigating a large ensemble in a series as you’re in mind-flow mode. A thoughtfully chosen name sets the tone for your narrative, thankfully with modern search-and-replace we can figure things out as we go along, but encapsulating your character’s essence, captivating readers, and deepening their engagement with the story all around the phonics of your chosen names should not be overlooked or rushed. This guide delves into the art of naming characters, most of which will be second nature to you but it’s alway good to have a check-list. It offers foundational tips for novices, intermediate strategies to enrich your narrative, and advanced insights into the naming process’s scientific and psychological aspects. Whether you’re creating protagonists for contemporary romance, seeking period-accurate names for historical settings, or devising unique identifiers for fantasy realms, our advice, strategies, and insights aim to assist writers at all levels in selecting names that add depth and allure to their tales.

Quick tips:

Character Names database.
  1. Don’t fight the Genre: Ensure the name fits the romance sub-genre, whether it’s historical, paranormal, contemporary, etc.
  2. Time Period Appropriateness: Choose names that are historically accurate for the setting, if applicable.
  3. Cultural Relevance: Pick names that reflect the character’s cultural or ethnic background authentically. You can always buck this rule, but you should have a good reason.
  4. Meaning Matters: Look for names with meanings that subtly hint at character traits or fate, readers love the foreshadowing.
  5. Easy to Pronounce, please: Ensure readers can easily phonically pronounce the names to avoid pulling them out of the story every time they say it. Xylocharinophylis seems like a good idea for Fantasy, but make sure everyone is comfortable with calling him/her/their or it Xylo, so it isn’t like slipping on a thorn on the way out of your mouth.
  6. Distinctiveness: Use unique names that stand out but aren’t overly complicated or hard to remember (see above).
  7. Avoid Clichés: Steer clear of names that are overused in the romance genre unless you’re subverting them.
  8. Character Role Alignment: Choose names that fit with the character’s role or archetype (hero, villain, mentor, etc.), unless you are subverting them. You will hear subversion a lot as it’s great to do, as long as you are aware of why you are doing it..
  9. Sonic Appeal: Consider how the name sounds, say it allowed if it helps. Names with softer consonants can convey a softer character, for example.
  10. Length Balance: Mix short and long names in your character roster for variety and rhythm.
  11. Nickname Potential: Think about possible nicknames or shortened forms that other characters might use affectionately.
  12. Avoid Initial Repetition: Try not to have main characters with names starting with the same letter to prevent confusion. We’ve personally broke this rule a few time by doubling down on characteristics to avoid the phonic likenesses.
  13. Symbolism: Use names that symbolize themes or motifs in your story. This is fiction, and you are allowed these freedoms.
  14. Reader Association: Be mindful of popular associations with certain names due to celebrities or well-known fictional characters. It not only pulls the reader out of the story and thinking about the celebrity, it takes energy away from your character – the imposter.
  15. Name Dynamics: Consider how the names of your romantic leads play off each other. When said together, make them sound lovely, or like shards of glass in the throat.
  16. Contrast Characters: Use contrasting names to highlight the differences between characters. Bubbly and Blunt, etc.
  17. Alliteration and Rhyme: Use these sparingly as they can add charm but might also detract from seriousness when overdone. Fine for Cozy romance, but Dark romance demands a bit more of a serious edge.
  18. Use of Surnames: Think about how formal or informal your characters will be with each other, using surnames to create distance or formality is great. For example, if writing in 3rd person, the narrator might call a character by their surname and the character might call them by their first times unless it’s official business.
  19. Ancestral Homage: Consider names that might honor a character’s heritage or ancestors. Fans love to dig.
  20. Place Names: Use locations or landmarks as inspiration for unique names. 
  21. Avoid Trendy Names (Unless Relevant): Today’s trendy name can quickly become tomorrow’s cliché and will date your book. 
  22. Secondary Character Names: Give thought to the names of side characters to enrich the world-building. They are people too and can offset the simplicity of your main character’s names. 
  23. Names with Variations: Choose names that allow for variations, giving flexibility in how characters might evolve.
  24. Language Considerations: If writing in or about a non-English language setting, ensure names are used correctly within that language.
  25. Consult Name Databases, like our wonder one! (Character Names. An Ultimate Inspiring List): Utilise online name databases and resources for inspiration and information.
  26. Feedback Loop: Get feedback on your character names from writing groups or beta readers. It’s always good to A/B test, especially if it’s your main character’s names. 
  27. Consistency in Naming Conventions: For series or books set in the same universe, keep naming conventions consistent.
  28. Double-Check Name Meanings: Research the meanings of names to avoid unintended connotations. Just because it sounds and looks pretty, doesn’t mean you’ll regret the tattoo of published ink on your page.
  29. Consider Reader Accessibility: Think about the ease with which readers can remember and differentiate between character names.
  30. Inspiration from Literature and Myth: Draw on classic literature and mythology for names that come with built-in depth and resonance. You can check out our THEMES categories which is a good starting place.

Case Study: "The Hating Game" by Sally Thorne.

Diving deeper into the significance of the character names in “The Hating Game” by Sally Thorne reveals how intricately names can be intertwined with narrative themes, character arcs, and the relational dynamics between characters. The thoughtful selection of names for Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman offers layers of meaning and enhances the reading experience by subtly contributing to the story’s emotional and thematic depth.

Lucy Hutton

Light and Positivity: Lucy’s name, which is often associated with light, reflects her role as a source of positivity and warmth in the workplace and in Joshua’s life. Her bright demeanor and optimistic outlook act as a counterbalance to Joshua’s initially cold and standoffish behavior. This contrast is not just in their personalities but also symbolized in their names, setting the stage for the transformative effect they have on each other.
Approachability and Relatability: Lucy’s first name is universally approachable and friendly, mirroring her character’s desire to be liked and to make others feel welcome and valued. This aspect of her personality is crucial for her role in the story, as it is her warmth that eventually breaks down the barriers between her and Joshua. Her name’s relatability also makes it easy for readers to empathise with her struggles and victories.

Joshua Templeman

Strength and Depth: The name Joshua, with its biblical roots meaning “Yahweh is salvation,” conveys a sense of strength and depth. This aligns with Joshua’s character, who is initially perceived as formidable and somewhat enigmatic. The name suggests there is more to him than meets the eye, inviting readers to look beyond his stern exterior to the vulnerable man beneath, much like Lucy does.
Formality and Structure: The surname Templeman adds an element of formality and structure, reflecting Joshua’s meticulous nature and his adherence to rules and order in both his professional and personal life. This characteristic is a source of conflict between him and Lucy but also one of the aspects she comes to love and understand. The slightly old-fashioned and authoritative sound of “Templeman” reinforces the initial power dynamics in their relationship, which evolve as the story progresses.

The Synergy Between Names and Character Development

Dynamic Contrast: The contrasting qualities of Lucy and Joshua’s names underscore the dynamic tension in their relationship, which is central to the novel’s plot. Their names not only reflect their individual personalities but also the journey they undergo, from adversaries to allies and ultimately lovers. This evolution is mirrored in how the readers’ perceptions of the characters deepen, influenced by the layers of meaning embedded in their names.
Symbolic Resonance: The symbolic resonance of “light” (Lucy) and “salvation” (Joshua) speaks to the novel’s underlying themes of love as a force for change and healing. Through their relationship, both characters find aspects of themselves illuminated and redeemed. Their names, therefore, are not mere labels but integral to the narrative’s emotional landscape, subtly guiding the reader’s engagement with the story.
Memorability and Discussion: Lastly, the choice of memorable and meaningful names makes the characters stand out not just in the context of the story but also in discussions among readers. This enhances the book’s shareability and appeal, contributing to its success and impact.

In “The Hating Game,” Sally Thorne demonstrates the power of well-chosen names to add depth and nuance to character portrayal and to subtly weave the narrative’s themes through the fabric of its characters’ identities. The names Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman are masterfully selected to enrich the story, illustrating the critical role that naming plays in character development and storytelling in modern romance literature.

Case Study: "When Harry met Sally" - Woody Allan.

“When Harry Met Sally” is an iconic romantic comedy film, but we can apply a similar analysis to its character names as we might for characters in a novel. The names Harry Burns and Sally Albright are enduring, carrying distinct connotations and associations that contribute to the narrative’s charm and the audience’s perception of the characters.

Harry Burns

Harry: A common English name that can be short for ‘Harold’ or stand on its own. It’s informal and friendly, approachable, and down-to-earth, much like the character Harry himself. It’s a name that doesn’t stand on ceremony, which aligns with Harry’s straightforward, sometimes blunt, personality. The name is also associated with Prince Harry of the UK, who is known for breaking royal norms and being relatable, further reinforcing the character’s everyman appeal.

Burns: The surname Burns could subtly invoke the Scottish poet Robert Burns, known for his romantic verse, which is fitting given the film’s genre. It also suggests a kind of intensity—burns as a verb implies a passionate or consuming feeling, which could allude to Harry’s passionate nature and his tendency for strong opinions.

Sally Albright

Sally: The name Sally, a diminutive form of Sarah meaning ‘princess,’ carries a playful, vivacious spirit. It’s classic and timeless, much like the character’s style and outlook on life. The name conjures images of someone cheerful, sociable, and endearing, mirroring Sally’s optimistic and spirited disposition.
Albright: Her surname radiates positivity, echoing words like ‘bright’ and ‘light.’ It has an air of intelligence and vivacity, suggesting that Sally is a woman of clarity and insight. The name Albright also invokes a sense of someone who is distinguished and memorable, which aligns with Sally’s memorable character traits and the indelible impression she leaves on both Harry and the audience.

The Synergy Between Names and Characters

The character names in “When Harry Met Sally” work well on several levels:

Compatibility: The combination of the approachable ‘Harry’ with the slightly more refined ‘Sally’ mirrors the characters’ contrasting personalities and the balance they find in each other’s company.

Memorability: Both names are easy to remember, aiding the film’s status as a memorable classic. They are distinct enough to be recognisable but common enough to feel familiar and relatable.

Reflection of Relationship Dynamics: The names reflect the evolution of their relationship—from casual acquaintances to deep, meaningful connection. The simplicity and warmth of ‘Harry’ coupled with the brightness and optimism of ‘Sally’ track their journey from light-hearted banter to profound love.

Cultural Resonance: Both names, especially at the time of the film’s release, would have resonated well with the audience, being familiar without being dated, echoing the film’s own balance of timeless themes with a contemporary setting.

In the context of character development and storytelling, “When Harry Met Sally” showcases how names can subtly underscore personality traits, relational dynamics, and thematic elements within a narrative, all contributing to a rich and engaging character study.

Explore our full 12,000 list of male and female character names in our A-Z collections

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