The Writing Life: What’s in A Name?



What’s in A Name?

by Michelle Janene

‘A rose by any other name, may smell as sweet,’ but what about our characters? Are all names the same? Can they be interchanged and still carry the same meaning and impact? Does a Fred give the reader the same impression as an Alfred? What kind of person do you picture with the name Marci, how about Mariamne, or Mary, or Meraera, or Malith?

Names have power in our stories. But how do we create the right name for every character?

When I first started writing, I bought a baby name book. When I created a new character I’d pick a letter I wanted the name to start with and then went through the pages looking at meanings and spelling variations until I found something to suit my character.

As time passed and I roamed the web more, I discovered a plethora of sites to find names. Most baby or new mom sites have a dedicated page for names. But I took my naming to the next level by choosing a name based on its meaning. Sites like the following are a small list of possibilities for search by the meaning.

  • Behind the Name, allows you to type in the desired meaning and the site provides a list of names from around the world that match. Or a search can be done by nationality.

  • Name Berry allows searches by meaning as well.

  • Belly Ballet gives you lists of names with their meanings also.


If you don’t want to waste hours on the Internet and have Scrivener, there is a name generator built in. You can also pick a name based on gender and nationality. It’s under the Edit tab in Writing Tools.

I have also found some apps I enjoy: (these are free for Android, but they might be found for Apple as well—or something similar)

  • Name Generator

  • Fake Name Generator is fun. It will give you a name: First and Last, along with an address, occupation, fake SSN, and a long list of other stats.

Since I write most of my books with a medieval feel, I have several sites bookmarked for Old English names. Here are a couple of my favorites.

I have also looked for names popular in the old west. More recently I Googled ‘most popular names in 1998’. When you know the age of your character you can get a feel for the names many parents were giving their children the same year as your character was born.

This is now my go-to for names of all kinds.

  • Fantasy Name Generator. This one has an extensive list of possible fantasy characters to choose from, including: hobbits, elves, angels, dragon, dwarves, and a host of others. It also includes Real Name, Place Names, and so much more.

Another favorite is Donjon. You can create an entire world with this site. Each of the names below is a separate link within the site that leads to worlds of possibilities. You can name your characters, your world, and the locations in that world. There are occupations, population stats, maps and diagrams. A person could spend days on this site—and never get a word written.

  • Fantasy Name Generator

  • Random Generator

  • Fantasy Calendar Generator

  • Fantasy World Generator

  • Medieval Demographics Calculator

  • Random Adventure Generator

  • Random Dungeon Generator

  • Random Inn Generator

Do you have any tried and true ways of naming characters? Share your insights. Happy naming.

About the Author


Michelle Janene lives and works in Northern California. Most days she blissfully exists in the medieval creations of her mind. She is a devoted teacher, a dysfunctional housekeeper, and a dedicated writer. She released her first novella Mission: Mistaken Identity in 2015. God’s Rebel came out in 2016, followed by Rebel’s Son and Hidden Rebel in 2017. She has been published in “Guide Post Magazine” and several anthologies. She leads two critique groups and is the founder of Strong Tower Press—Indie solutions for indie authors.

You can find her at Strong Tower Press, Turret Writing, on Facebook, Twitter, and on Goodreads.

You can read Michelle’s column on the 3rd Tuesday each month here at Pandora’s Box Gazette.


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