Opinion Time: What Makes A Good Character Name?

I know this is highly subjective topic that contains multiple different answers spanning countless genres, but I measure the quality of character names by three factors:

  1. How realistic the name is.
  2. How appropriate (time & setting-wise) the name is.
  3. How befitting of the character the name is.

Granted, there are times when I’ve created character names that didn’t align with my above criteria, but I kept it anyway because I loved the sound or vibe or whatever of it so much.

[name_f]My[/name_f] genre of storytelling is almost exclusively realistic fiction, so names that sound ordinary and easygoing are generally my forte. For example, my primary story centers around this middle-class family of five living in rural Arkansas. They come from a very religious background and their ancestry comprises Celtic, Angelo-Saxon, Scandinavian and Germanic DNA. Taking all these facts into consideration, I painstakingly researched and tried out various name combinations that suited the backstory of the family, and these were the eventual results are as follows:

  1. [name_f]Skyla[/name_f] [name_f]Blythe[/name_f] Mortenson: the youngest child and second daughter of the family. [name_f]Skyla[/name_f] is adopted, and her parents considered their religion and their heritage when renaming her. Her father, [name_m]Henry[/name_m], had a paternal uncle named [name_f]Schuyler[/name_f] Mortenson, who, alongside his three other uncles, died in the Vietnam War. Wanting to honor his fourth uncle, he and his wife, [name_f]Elizabeth[/name_f], feminized the [name_f]English[/name_f] version of [name_f]Schuyler[/name_f], “Skylar,” into the cute and palatable [name_f]Skyla[/name_f]. [name_f]Elizabeth[/name_f], the more religious of the two, wanted Skyla’s middle name to be religious, which [name_m]Henry[/name_m] conceded. As a result, her middle name is [name_f]Blythe[/name_f], meaning “happy, carefree.” Quite fitting of Skyla’s personality, as a matter of fact.

  2. [name_f]Harper[/name_f] [name_f]Annamarie[/name_f] Mortenson: the middle child and first daughter of the family. “Harper” was chosen as her name by her parents due to its contemporary value and its place as a maternal family surname. Plus, it has some history in Christianity, so that was extra points. Her middle name, [name_f]Annamarie[/name_f], is a combination of “Anna” and “Marie”, both of which originate from the Bible.

(Fun fact: “Anna” was Harper’s beta name, but I thought it was too plain and changed it once I found a better option. When deciding her middle name, I thought making it “Anna” would be a cute reference, but I still thought it was too plain, so I added the equally pedestrian “Marie” to the mix. Ironically, I think “Annamarie” has more pzazz than [name_f]Anna[/name_f] or [name_f]Marie[/name_f] alone.)

  1. [name_m]Sebastian[/name_m] [name_m]Torquil[/name_m] Mortenson: the only son and eldest child of the family. “Sebastian” is a name that’s universal across many, many cultures and countries, so it’s fitting for his parents’ broad European heritage. Additionally, it’s a name originating in Christianity, so that appeased the required religious connection. “Torquil” is actually a name of Scottish origin derived from the Scandinavian name “Torkel”, meaning “Thor’s helmet.” Once I discovered this name’s multicultural origins, I knew it would be the perfect middle name for [name_m]Sebastian[/name_m] (his parents thought so as well).

  2. [name_f]Elizabeth[/name_f] [name_f]Theophania[/name_f] Mortenson (nee Bermingham): the wife and mother of this family. She was born the second child and eldest daughter of her parents, who were both high-ranking religious figures in her hometown and their religious devotion and domineering personalities passed onto [name_f]Elizabeth[/name_f], making her into a cold, controlling, emotionally unavailable mother and wife and a devout [name_m]Christian[/name_m].

I’ve made a post titled “The Enthralling Flexibility of ‘Elizabeth’” that is about exactly that. For me, [name_f]Elizabeth[/name_f] is name that carries endless connotations and associations, both good and bad. I thought this regal, ancient, beautiful and timeless name would be perfect for Mrs. Mortenson, as she encompasses the ultimate struggle of choosing between faith and family culminating into a stale, unsatisfying resolution. her middle name, [name_f]Theophania[/name_f], means “God’s appearance”, befitting her family’s highly [name_m]Christian[/name_m] origins.

  1. [name_m]Henry[/name_m] [name_m]Ingmar[/name_m] Mortenson: the husband and father of this family. He is subdued and quiet in personality, and while he doesn’t always agree with her, [name_m]Henry[/name_m] usually concedes to the will of his wife to keep the peace, even at the cost of his children’s happiness and well-being. His first name is derived from his late uncle’s name, [name_m]Henrik[/name_m] Mortenson, who died in the Vietnam War alongside his three other uncles. His middle name, “Ingmar”, can be found across Scandinavian and Germanic cultures, making it the ultimate culmination of all Henry’s heritage.

Overall, all five of these names represent all I like about character names: realism, appropriation, and fittingness. As the cherry on top, I made these names with the intention of blending familiar and unique elements in accordance with their family history and religion; a task that was as time-consuming as it was delightful! I understand that not everybody will agree with my perspective. Hell, some people might even find realistic character names to be boring, which I understand why- why not go for something wild and adventurous when exploring the realm of fiction? But at the same time, I feel like grounding character names in the realm of familiarity helps to better integrate them into the audience’s attachment and relatability, but I could be far off the mark here, so who knows?

Regardless, I’m super curious as to what others think a good character name constitutes, and I’d like anyone and everyone to share their thoughts below, whether they agree with me or wholeheartedly disagree with me. Thanks for sticking around this long!

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Wow, you put a lot of thought into these names! They are gorgeous!

For me, it’s important that a name feels right. [name_f]My[/name_f] character [name_m]Donny[/name_m] [name_m]Andrews[/name_m] almost had a different name, but my brain kept calling him [name_m]Donny[/name_m]. So, that became his name (his full name is [name_m]Donovan[/name_m] “Donny” [name_m]Windsor[/name_m] Andrews).

I do pay attention to different factors on a case-by-case basis.

Meaning: It’s a bonus for me if the name has a fitting meaning, though I don’t always aim for one anymore.

Origin: Since most of my books take place in made-up realms, name origin is often not really a priority. Though, I do seem to lean towards certain name origins for certain characters.

Fittingness for the time period: I do tend to gravitate towards less modern names for less modern time periods, though not always.

Formality: I tend to go for more ornate and flowery names for characters of noble heritage, especially girls.

This is just what works for me, though🙂.

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Thank you! I was starting to think nobody ever even glanced at this post! I agree that, above all else, I want my character’s name to feel right for them, even if they may contradict my general three rules. ‘Donovan’ is a name I’ve always adored but never found the right character for, so it’s nice to see it being used by someone else! I agree with everything else you’ve said as well: meanings can be helpful, but aren’t always a priority; origin is very important to me, as I can’t imagine give a character a name from an ancestry they don’t have unless it’s for necessary reasons (for example, I have a [name_m]Cherokee[/name_m] character named “Robert Kingfisher” because I kept thinking the name “Bobby Kingfisher” was cute, even if the name itself was English); time period is also a factor, if pretty minor one; Formal names I usually reserve for serious characters or characters of elite/aristocratic background, such as “Victoria”, “Millicent”, “Cornelia”, Venetia", etc.

Overall, it’s great to hear from a like-minded writer! :+1:

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