Character-Naming Advice for NaNoWriMo

A few days ago, I posted some general advice about naming fictional characters. And today I have another character-naming tip to offer, but today’s tip is specifically for name-lovers planning to give NaNoWriMo a shot next month.

My suggestion? Experiment with non-name identifiers for your characters.

Your goal is to hit 50,000 words in just 30 days, so you don’t want to squander any time picking out perfect character names. Because, let’s be honest, that’s exactly what a lot of us would do. :)

Sure, you could use whatever names emerge from your subconscious as you write. And you could tell yourself that you’ll go back and pick better names once the month is over. But if you do this, you’ll be in danger of growing attached to those temporary names, which would make the re-naming process very tricky.

To avoid the pain of having to re-name your characters, consider not naming them at all, at least at first. Here are some alternative identifiers you could use in place of names this November:

  • Archetypes, like: Warrior, Detective, Rebel, Artist, Mentor.
  • Occupations or Roles, like: Mechanic, Businessman, Chef, Neighbor, Sister.
  • Symbols of a dominant personality trait, like: Crowbar (manipulative), Lightbulb (inventive), Sweatpants (lazy), Greenjuice (healthy).
  • Simple Descriptions, like: Teenager, Oldlady, Tallman, Readhead, Pegleg.

Mix and match identifiers from any of the above categories, or create an identification system of your own. Just do whatever allows you to both write quickly and avoid premature name-attachment.

If you’re a name-lover who has participated in NaNoWriMo before, how did you handle character names? What advice would you offer?

How to Name Fictional Characters

three tips on choosing a character name

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.

…What are your thoughts on this topic?

Cat-Naming Tip: Think “High-Pitched”

cat-naming tip

Cats don’t often respond when called by name. In fact, they seem to enjoy blissfully ignoring their humans.

So if you’ve recently acquired a kitty and want to increase the likelihood that he/she will respond when called, choose the right name, and remember to say it the right way.

According to Vancouver veterinarian Dr. Uri Burstyn, “cats have evolved to hear high-pitched sounds much better than low-pitched sounds because most of their prey animals — rodents, birds — all communicate in a very high frequency, stuff that humans can’t hear.” He also notes that cats respond more regularly to names that terminate in a high-pitched sound, particularly an “ee” sound. agrees:

Cats have been noted to respond better to high-pitched human voices … Cats also respond to names containing the long e-vowel, or “ee” sound.

So, to catch your cat’s attention, name it something like Smokey or Missy as opposed to something like Tigger or Shadow. (All four of these names were top-10 cat names in San Diego in 2016, btw.)

And, whatever name you choose, remember say it in a high pitch for maximum effect.

Sources: Cat names that get your cat’s attention – what should I name my cat? (vid), Naming Your Kitten – petMD

Baby-Naming Tip: Set a Time Limit


Here’s an idea for all you over-thinkers out there: set a time limit to your baby-naming process.


One study found that “people tend to underestimate the temporal costs of choosing relative to the benefits of finding the best option. Consequently, decision makers insist on exercising their choice opportunities even when these opportunities lead to poor outcomes.”

Translation: Decision-makers can spend too much time researching all the options.

Yes, there’s an advantage to having more knowledge. But don’t forget that your time has value, too. And that having extra knowledge doesn’t guarantee you’ll make a better decision.

In certain circumstances, the costs associated with the time spent searching for the best option may even be greater than the benefits that option provides, resulting in faulty decisions and undesirable outcomes.

For baby names, this could mean looking at so many options that you go off track and choose a name that you would never have considered months earlier. Only to end up suffering from baby name regret (which, yes, is a thing now).

How should you go about setting a time limit? Here are some ideas:

  • Start your search now, but set a deadline and make yourself accountable somehow (i.e., share the deadline with close friends).
    • You could also try a series of deadlines: “We’ll narrow it down to 10 names in January, 5 in February, and make the final decision in March.”
  • Put off the search until later in the pregnancy. Table all baby name conversations until a certain date.
  • If you have a weakness for internet chit-chat, bar yourself from joining name-themed Facebook groups, message boards, etc. If you’ve already joined, un-join. Use your browser to block certain sites if need be.

Do you have any other time-saving tips (or efficiency tips) for all the name-seekers out there?

Source: Botti, Simona and Christopher K. Hsee. “Dazed and confused by choice: How the temporal costs of choice freedom lead to undesirable outcomes.” (PDF) Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 112 (2010): 161-171.