How-to articles on naming fictional characters are a dime a dozen. But most are a litany of tips — some important, others not so much. So I thought I’d try boiling the best of the advice down to a single sentence. Here’s what I came up with:
“Each character’s name should fit the setting, fit the character, and be distinct within the story.”
The sentence contains three different objectives, so let’s look out each one separately:
Fit the setting
The name should be appropriate for the time and place in which the story occurs. A romance set in 18th-century England could be between an Elizabeth and a Frederick, but not a Nevaeh and a Jayden. Similarly, the protagonist of a 24th-century space opera could be named something standard/plain (John) or futuristic (Loxxan), but probably not something very old (Holmketill), or even slightly old (Clarence).
Fit the character
The name should suit the character, primarily in terms of permanent descriptors (e.g., gender, age, ethnicity), but also, perhaps, in terms of personality traits (e.g., bubbly, gracious, haughty).
Stereotyping in general is bad, but when it comes to character names, it’s very useful: You want the name to give the correct impression of the character right away. A woman from India should be named Padma, not Margaret. A man from Germany should be called Armin, not Oakley.
You could also take it a step further and choose a name that reflects the character’s personality in a subtle way. A friendly woman could be an Amy, while a complex woman could be Demetria. Do this mainly with sounds and associations, which will be picked up instantly by the reader.
Be distinct within the story
The name should not look or sound similar to any of the other names in the story, or else the reader could get confused. Pay special attention to first letters and to repeated sounds. If the protagonists are sisters, name them Mila and Harriet, not Katie and Kelly. Likewise, if the main characters are brothers, use the names Brian and Luke, not Aidan and Adam.
In June of 1982, the Toledo Blade ran a short article about two local brothers who “enjoy the distinction of having initials which spell their names.” One was Thomas Owen Matzinger (T.O.M.), the other was James Irvin Matzinger (J.I.M.). Their dad Mike said it was “just as well” that he didn’t have any more kids, because he couldn’t think of any other sets of names to fit the pattern.
My guess is that Mike was joking, because there are several other sets of initials that could work with an M-surname like Matzinger, one of which, T.I.M., is just a letter away from T.O.M.
In fact, there are at least a couple of combinations that would work with every type of surname.
So today, in honor of the Matzingers of Toledo, I’ve come up with a long list of name-spelling initials. They’re sorted by third initial (that is, the first letter of the last name) so you can scroll straight to the set that matches up with your own surname.
Initials that Spell Names & Nicknames
Surname starts with:
Potential full initials (& example combo):
A.D.A. (Adelaide Diane A.) A.N.A. (Anastasia Nadine A.) A.S.A. (Asa Scott A.) A.V.A. (Ava Virginia A.) B.E.A. (Beatrix Elaine A.) E.V.A. (Eva Veronica A.) G.I.A. (Gia Idonea A.) I.D.A. (Idabelle Daria A.) I.N.A. (Ina Nigella A.) I.R.A. (Ira Ralph A.) I.S.A. (Isabel Simone A.) K.I.A. (Kia Ianthe A.) L.E.A. (Leah Elizabeth A.) M.I.A. (Mia Imelda A.) N.I.A. (Nia Ilona A.) O.D.A. (Odalys Delfina A.) O.R.A. (Ora Ruth A.) U.M.A. (Uma Magnolia A.) U.N.A. (Una Normina A.)
D.E.B. (Deborah Ethel B.) J.E.B. (Jeb Evan B.) L.I.B. (Libbie Ione B.) R.O.B. (Robert Orville B.) S.E.B. (Sebastian Everly B.) S.Y.B. (Sybil Yvette B.) T.A.B. (Tabitha Araminta B.) Z.E.B. (Zebulon Ezekiel B.)
B.E.C. (Becky Eowyn C.) M.A.C. (Mackenzie Anne C.) N.I.C. (Nicole Isabelle C.) V.I.C. (Victor Ivan C.) Z.A.C. (Zackary Arlo C.)
J.E.D. (Jedidiah Easton D.) R.O.D. (Rodney Orrin D.) T.E.D. (Theodora Eugenia D.) Z.E.D. (Zedekiah Ezra D.)
A.B.E. (Abraham Benjamin E.) A.C.E. (Ace Corbin E.) E.V.E. (Eve Violet E.) F.A.E. (Fae Adina E.) I.K.E. (Isaac Keith E.) J.O.E. (Joseph Owen E.) L.E.E. (Lee Ethan E.) M.A.E. (Maebelle Alice E.) M.O.E. (Morris Oscar E.) R.A.E. (Raelene Alicia E.) S.U.E. (Susan Ursula E.) Z.O.E. (Zoe Ocean E.)
C.A.L. (Callum Audley L.) D.E.L. (Delaney Estelle L.) G.I.L. (Gilbert Ishmael L.) H.A.L. (Harry Archibald L.) L.I.L. (Lillian Iva L.) M.A.L. (Malcolm Angus L.) M.E.L. (Melanie Eloisa L.) M.O.L. (Molly Odette L.) S.A.L. (Sally Angelica L.) S.O.L. (Solomon Osborn L.) V.A.L. (Valerie Annette L.) W.I.L. (Willy Ingo L.) Z.E.L. (Zelda Erin L.)
C.A.M. (Cameron Aidan M.) D.O.M. (Dominic Orson M.) J.E.M. (Jemima Eleanor M.) J.I.M. (James Irvin M.) K.I.M. (Kimberly Imogene M.) L.E.M. (Lemuel Emerson M.) P.A.M. (Pamela Alys M.) R.A.M. (Ramsey Archer M.) S.A.M. (Samuel Aaron M.) S.I.M. (Simon Isidore M.) T.A.M. (Tammy Anita M.) T.I.M. (Timothy Isaac M.) T.O.M. (Thomas Owen M.)
B.A.X. (Baxter Andrew X.) D.A.X. (Dax Alec X.) D.E.X. (Dexter Edison X.) J.A.X. (Jaxon Antony X.) L.E.X. (Lexie Eliza X.) M.A.X. (Maximus Alvin X.) P.A.X. (Pax Amelia X.) R.E.X. (Rex Elias X.) R.O.X. (Roxanna Opal X.) T.E.X. (Tex Emmanuel X.)
A.M.Y. (Amy Michelle Y.) G.U.Y. (Guy Urban Y.) I.V.Y. (Ivy Verity Y.) J.A.Y. (Jay Adam Y.) J.O.Y. (Joyce Ondina Y.) K.A.Y. (Katherine Addison Y.) M.A.Y. (May Augusta Y.) R.A.Y. (Raymond Adrian Y.) R.O.Y. (Royce Oberon Y.) S.K.Y. (Skylar Kerry Y.)
Autzen – Autzen Stadium is where the Oregon Ducks football team plays.
Avenir – Avenir is a French word meaning “future.” It’s also on the Washington state list below. In fact, nearly two-thirds of last year’s Avenirs were born on the west coast: 10 in Washington, 7 in California, 5 in Oregon. Anyone know why?