Screenwriting : Characters by Autumn Collins

Autumn Collins


I've been thinking about this lately... how do you come up with an appropriate character name for a script, or a story in general? When I read a book it appears that these names a picked carefully. I find that when I am concept building for a script I have trouble with character names. Any thoughts why?

Claes Lane

I go on baby name sites too. is my personal favorite. It's important to me that I can hear people talking about the character in conversation. For example people will talk about last night's episode of The Walking Dead yelling about Lori, Rick, or Daryl. So I act it out in my head. "Oh my gosh I saw that movie by Autumn Winter! I hated Samuel and Claire was so sneaky. Josh was such a sweetheart. I loved him." Get it? I want to be able to hear people discussing my characters with the names rolling off their tongues.

Felipe Grossi Togni

Final Draft has a name database that can be helpful as well. Besides you can change the name once the screenplay unveils its secrets.

Viquii Johannesson (Vicki Johnson)

Allow your creativity to flow and trust yourself

Carson Coots
Marc Slover

Although I don't have a true system, I try to avoid names that remind me of someone. I also agree that names can be changed as secrets are revealed.

Andrew Gmerek

I think great character names are created based on the way they sound and the feelings they invoke when they are spoken. Think Ebenezer Scrooge. Even if you didn't know what the character was like, you could guess just by pronouncing the name. And in some cases, you can give characters names that misrepresent what they are like. I feel that if you're creating a character and his or her name is really interchangeable with any other name, then the character is probably the same way and should be rewritten. Or just go with Man 1 or Woman 2 and leave it at that.

Padma Narayanaswamy

I love to name characters . and also to some reader suggestion I changed a name

Lisa Clemens

I try to check that they have not been used by checking IMDB. Occasionally I'll name minor characters after friends. In Case #13 a cop is named after a friend of mine who is a cop on Long Island. He's average build, bald... When it went into production I found out that casting (without ever seeing my friend) had also cast a bald actor, but he was described to me as looking like Vin Diesel! Needless to say my pal is pleased!

Anthony Vercoe

I find this to be one of the most fun bits of getting started. For the more outlandish characters, I think about his or her peculiarities and find obscure foreign or antiquated words to match. There are name generators out there to help find first names or surnames depending on where the one I came up with sits best.

Douglas Strait

Many of mine come from names seen on various jobs. For example, while seeing lists of names account holders for a bank or policyholders for an insurance company, I'll see unusual names and make lists of these names, and then mix and match. I once ran across the name Marine Aboud and have a character in one script named Army Aboud. Using names of friends and relatives also works. The fun part is using the imagination to create unusual versions from the lists I've made.

Bill Hartin

Writer's Digest publishes CHARACTER NAMING SOURCEBOOK by Sherrilyn Kenyon, with spelling variations and breakdowns by ethnicities, and tidbits from other writers how they go about coming up with characters' names. Overall, a very good resource.

Audrey Ero

I think you're probably thinking about too hard. I just pick whatever comes to mind. Some of them are pretty unique, like the short I'm writing now. My 1st script I started years ago, the main characters'personalities were based on me and my high school best friend so their names were based off us. My next script of two leads are FBI partners and their first names both start with D, intentionally, which led to other stuff I did with the story. But then I had to be careful because too many names I was coming up with were also starting with D. Also, both stories are influenced by other films, so I hodgepodge names from them. What can be hard for me is choosing ethnic names- got to be authentic but not stereotypical. That's just my 2 cents.

Douglas Strait

Another source I've used is the names of criminals who are dead. I've used the names of the .22 caliber killers twice now, and just spelled the names a little differently.

Wayne Douglas Johnson

There are a few ways NOT to name your characters. One of them seems to be Don't name your characters with the same first letter as this becomes confusing to the readers. Beth and Ben, Christy and Charles , John and Josh... Pick a name that spell check likes as the red underline gets distracting. If you are doing a period piece, Like me 1838, search that year on the internet and check out the names used back then. See you on the other side... Rumpelstiltskin., or as I like to call him Bob. Wayne

Michael Eddy

Not sure if anyone has suggested this yet as I haven't read all the comments left on this post - but a good trick I picked up from a writer buddy when i was starting out - is to go through your old yearbooks from high school or college - and use distinctive last names - and just change the first - to protect the innocent -0 or guilty - as the case may be). I alweays found choosing character names to be a lot of fun - and usually easier than coming up with a good title. Another way to go is to name characters after friends and family - which becomes a legal maze if and when your script gets made and the legal department needs to vet each and every name for legal reasons and to avoid nuisance suits. Akin to never including a real phoine number (which is why in most TV and movies a # always starts with 555 - because there is no such prefix on any real phone). Good luck

Mike Grell

Try speaking the name aloud - if it sounds good to the ear, you're probably on the right track. I always try to choose a name that suits the character and the type of story, while not being too cliched. Some stories and characters call for dynamic, heroic names and others call for something more mundane. Occasionally, ethnicity comes into play (you wouldn't name an Italian mafioso Sean O'Malley). Sometimes it's fun to play word games like Ian Fleming did in his James Bond stories (Pussy Galore, etc.), but you can only do it in the right context - it wouldn't work in a straight drama. Try not to be too obviously clever, it can backfire on you - I once did a comic called SHAMAN'S TEARS, where all the characters had names relating to copyright and trademark (Brand, Sigil, Broad Arrow, Blazon, Signet, Dr. Regus Patoff and General Pat Pending). Nobody got the joke.

Justin Vedrine

Most often, you can get a good name according to the story.

Serita Stevens

I use an old book, You Are Your First Name by Ellin Dodge Young (Long Shadow Press). I do not think it is in print anymore but you can find it in some libraries. Excellent for giving you naming ideas. I find that the name really has to match who the character is.

Bill Joyce

I always felt my mother should have named me Ichabod. As a fantasy writer I have both freedom to be whimsical and the restraints placed by previous writers in the genre. For me I pick an name from the dusty caverns of my mind and live with it until it haunts me. In one novel I have a leading female character who comes form the "far east" - no not China, this is an epic fantasy and a different world. Her name, Joabh, still haunts me. Its uniqueness gives mystery and a certain amount of power but its pronunciation ( Jo - ab ) causes doubt of her femininity. Now this does not answer your question so much as give you freedom to live with your charter a while and let their name evolve. They speak to you and they will guide you in the end. As writers we have one really big advantage over mothers, we get to see the life of our children before we need to place the moniker on them.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Names of characters are very important. You can convey a lot of attributes with just a name -- ethnicity, region, physicality, era, even personality. Character names also help set the overall tone of your story.

Bill Joyce

AND - you can always go out your back door and coal for your charter to come home for dinner. You really get the feel for the name when you shout it in the neighborhood. - hehehehehe William Charles Joseph Joyce Get in Here!

Mike Grell

Era is important. In the '80s you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a Megan on a soap opera - the thing of it is, all those characters would have been born in the late '50s-early '60s when the most common names were things like Mary, Susan and just about anything in the letter "I" (Tami, Lori,Terri, etc.). Of course, there were the occasional Aurora Borealis and Dweezil...

MJ Brewer

When you think about kids you went to school with, didn't their names conjure up a mental image for you? Psychologists stipulate that when you hear a demeaning title several times a day, or a positive cheer as often, your mind embeds the emotional connection. Think about characters in the movies; The Green Mile with Percy was a pushy nobody; the movie Red had Frank as a hard-nosed, take no crap from anybody, and then look at your own name. You'll see what I mean. When you say the characters' names, a mental light will come on when you get the right one -- it always does. :)

Antonia Jones-Hackley

I might be a little awkward but I let the character personality determine the name. For instance, no disrespect to Ethans but I had a character that was a ladies man, bordering womanizing. He started out as a Brian but when I molded his character and gave him a face, characterisitcs and dialog, that's when he became Ethan. That's when he became real to me.

CJ Walley

I totally agree that the name has to fit. Sometimes I just can't write a script until the names feel right. It's also worth noting that some readers don't like rhyming names lead character names, names that sound similar or look similar on the page as it can make it confusing for them to read.

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