Writing Tip: Creating Names for Short Story Characters

avatarw1-2191918_1280Because of a short story’s limited word count, creating names for short story characters is more important than just hanging an identifying label on them.

In my short story, “Debt to Pay”, I have a male character in his twenties who is weak, easily manipulated. A soft sounding name helps convey those flaws. Since my story is set in the present, I also needed a name that someone born in the ’90’s would be likely to have. “Asa” might sound weak, but it certainly would seem out of place attached to a contemporary character. I chose Ryan Conley. R’s and n’s have a soft sound, and the y on the end sound like a diminutive, like in Tommy or Annie. C is a strong consonant, so maybe I should have gone with Hanley or Finley, but I think Conley”gets the job done.

My only female characters is new to wealthy and in her 30’s. I wanted her to sound nouveau riche, and names like Victoria and Rebecca sound too old money. I went with Natalie. It’s suitable for someone born in 1980’s, but still sounds modern, like Madison or Harper, rather than timeless, like Sarah or Alice.

My main character, sixteen-year-old Jay, meets these two characters for the first time in the story. He nicknames them “Mr. Smooth” and “Fashion Model.” His nicknames tell the reader not only how the characters look, but also how Jay thinks of them. For more on using nicknames in your writing, see my post “Lesson #1 fromĀ The Deer on a Bicycle.

I also have a character who is a millionaire and a member of family that’s been wealthy for generations. So the last name had to sound as impressive but not imposing. So I ignored last names like Arlington or King or Powers. I chose Everett. It sounds like a name that could have come over on the Mayflower. I picked Adam for the first name because I wanted something traditional, which would fit a conservative, wealthy American dynasty, but something more distinct than James or Charles or Richard.

How do you name your characters? Do you have to like a name? How do you find ones that suit your characters?




5 thoughts on “Writing Tip: Creating Names for Short Story Characters

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    1. I’m glad your found it helpful! Names have always fascinate me, and it’s fun inventing ones for characters. And it’s much easier than when I had to name my kids.

  1. names are tricky things. you’re right that when they suit their character, it makes for a richer story. I read a lot of writers say that naming characters is like naming their first born. for me, i give my characters the first name that pops to mind, and while i’m revising, if i feel like it doesn’t sound right, i go google searching. If i stop to think about what the name for this or that character should be while the story is flowing strong, i’ll probably lose my momentum. I remember once i named a character Mr. X, just so that i didnt need to stop and think.
    now, i also read that a lot of writers do a profile list before they even write the story.

    1. I’m a character writer. I have to see my main characters as clearly in my head as I do real people and finding the right name helps me complete that picture. Sometimes, when I’m having trouble with a name, I just leave a character nameless until I can find something suitable. I agree with you on not wanting to lost your momentum. When you’ve got it going, don’t stop for anything!

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