Screenwriting : How do you name characters? by Craig D Griffiths

Craig D Griffiths

How do you name characters?

I have a problem finding names that feel right and start with different letters. That's just me, I don't like having dialogue between people with similar names, too confusing for the reader. Please give your method, plus suggestion for a 29 year old well educated drug dealer, black, could be Boston born.

Steven Harris Anzelowitz

Craig D Griffiths Quincy Ellington

David E. Gates

A combination of real people from my past, with their surnames switched around, works pretty effectively. Or, if it's a more common name then use that.

Craig D Griffiths

Like Ellington. Thanks Steve. All I see when I think Quincy Jack Klugman. Perhaps use the surname as a first name. It's more British than American.

Kyle Climans There is a surname focused site too but it's not as diverse.

Robert Franklin

On my recent story, I did the following. After I knew what time in history my story was taking place ... I then researched that era and found common names of people living in those days. I tested a few for each character. I guess this would be more difficult for a sci-fi story. One would have to rely more on imagination for that!

Eric Christopherson

Elmore Leonard said he couldn't create a character until he had the right name for him/her.

Jody Ellis

I rarely spend a ton of time on names, unless the name plays an important part in the story itself (I did make sure to pick an offbeat, funny name for one character in a comedy I wrote because she has to keep explaining how to pronounce her name.) Otherwise, I just pick ones that appeal to me and, like you, make sure I don't have a bunch that sound similar or start with the same letter.

Dan MaxXx

The city of Boston! Pfft! But I'd name your drug dealer after known Boston destinations, streets, or Boston sports Heroes. Google real drug kingpins of Boston. Give your characters some gritty Boston authenticity.

Some names I have used for my Los Angeles street crime stories: Green Eyes, Spider, Kane, "G-Money", or my favorite "Cashmere", based on a real philly drug dealer who didn't make it past age 30.

Niki Jones

I use the names of people I've met for anything non-fantasy, and for other things, I will sometimes use a name generator. It helps if you're just stuck trying to figure out names. I use them as guides. Super helpful.

Jody Ellis

If he's an educated drug dealer, maybe a high-brow name from which a street name could be generated. Like his name is Easton but they call him "easy". Something like that.

Tristan Convert

Seems Hollywood has been taking street names since forever.

Doug Nelson

I start each project with simple John/Jane Doe sorts of names but as their persona evolves in the story, more appropriate names present themselves. In FD, it's a simple search and replace. In a recent project, Joey became Jeep but finally wound up as Chase.

Jody Ellis

Working in the field I do, I come across some crazy names. Like the guy who was called "Shi-theed" but it was spelled....shithead. You can't make this stuff up.

Dan MaxXx

The Professor

Aray Brown

I don't spend too much time on finding names for my characters like I used to, names can always be changed. The characters and the story are what's most important. You can worry about the names later. However, at the time I was prose writing, I researched a bunch of names for this female character. I wanted it to be unique

Dash Riprock


Craig D Griffiths

Once I land a character in my head I begin to hear them. It is how I get the dialogue right. I was using Andrea, but he talks to an Amy and she is a major character he isn't. Was am getting a bit of JFK when this guy speaks. So I am thinking south Boston. That's tougher from what I understand. He speaks quite well, so some education. From a strange name POV, my brother-in-law is a teacher. He had a student name La-a pronounced ladasha. Thanks guys.

Tom Luca

It's different for every writer really. Lawrence Kasdan once said that for the film Raiders, more specifically Indy's ex-flame in the story, he took his Mother-in-Law's first name which he loved, Marion, and had seen a street somewhere in LA I think it was? By the name of Ravenwood, put them together and came up with the character's name Marion Ravenwood. Brilliant if I say so.

Natalie Farst

I have 2 methods. 1st is using names of people I know, though the characters they are named for have nothing to do with them. I also use, and don't laugh, a book of baby names. You can often find some of the most unique names in these books.

Aray Brown


Anthony Keetch

I refer to when the character was born, and look to see who was in the public eye at the time. That often influences the choice of babies' names

John Kephart

I also use books of baby names - or go to one of many websites. Another method is, knowing how old the character is, you can go to this site and search for the 20 most popular, 50 most popular, 100 most popular, or 500 most popular names for babies born in any given year, both male and female. Usually, I wouldn't want to choose the most popular name, as that may be too spot-on.

So assuming your story takes place in the present day, a 29 year old would be born in 1988. Here's the list of the 50 most popular for that year Personally, I like 19, Eric (which is short and strong - especially if you change the last letter to a "k") and number 33, Tyler. What do you pair each of those with? A last name name with a different amount of syllables than the first name, maybe one that says something about the character. For instance, "Erik Last" - maybe your drug dealer is a loser and always coming in last. Or "Tyler Washington" - "Washington" being a last name that somewhat common in the African-American community, though you could choose one common but not as known, like Pinkney. Or, combine the two suggestions I gave you: Erik Tyler. Good luck!

Mandy Newton

I look up definitions of names and match them to my characters.

John Kephart

I do that too, though there's always the risk (which happens to me) of getting too caught up and overdoing the trying-to-bring-meaning-to-the-name rather than actually writing. At some point you have to let it go.

Jody Ellis

Yes I don't see the point of poring over names for hours. Pick one. Move on. Write. Change the name later if you want.

Kelly Krause

I research my characters before naming them... This invariably means turning to historical sources and/or various mythologies from around the world... The figures that I come across tend to kindle my characters' names once I have an idea of who they are after carrying out this basic research. Some names (first and last) end up being hybrids of historical/mythological figures that inspired the characters.

Richard Thrift

Sometimes I give characters working names till I find the name I want.

Babz Bitela, President

just talked about this in a small class I taught two weeks ago; here's where it all landed--yes, research the name but truly only if it's pertinent to the tale - sometimes it matters more too b/c it affects/effects personality - but mostly don't do this: don't name your characters ALL starting with the same letter. Writers do that a lot. Don't. Write on!

Eldar Levin Gadjibekov

Craig D Griffiths..

Craig D Griffiths

I had to put the D in. It seems there are heaps of Craig Griffiths. There is a Craig Griffiths museum in Wales for a famous rugby union player of that name. The only advice I can give people, based on my business, podcast and marketing experience. Use the same name everywhere, don't make Google work hard to curate your stuff. Remember you are who Google says you are.

Babz Bitela, President

I like Jackson Jeremiah Jones - Triple J - aka the weeping prophet

Craig D Griffiths

Triple J is a cool alt-music station in Australia. I find a name, when wrong, can be jarring eg President Buffy or Chief Justice Tiffany. Some names just carry assumptions with them.

Craig D Griffiths

Just had luck drop me a name. Watching sport and was reminded of a rugby player Preston Campbell. Preston is a name I can imagine for him.

Simon Keirn

Final Draft 10 has a Names Database. I'll also google search "baby names ..." and add in a year, country, etc. to and look at baby name lists and birth record data.

Pierre Langenegger

Look at film credits, you'll find great names amongst the crew.

Tony Ginn

Perhaps, Bobby Best! Also, when I created character names for the Aliens in my SyFy it started with a Dex yellow pages that hit my door, thus, Door Rex that became Dorex the Evil Alien! Happy 4th of July weekend and God Bless!

Phillip "Le Raconteur" Hardy

I go to websites and scroll through lists of first and last names. Works like a charm.

Craig D Griffiths

When I named my kids I wanted names that could front and rock band as well as be a lawyer. Having a Celt heritage and ended up with Jacob and Kaela.

Louella M Reynolds

I use The Writer's Digest "Character Naming Sourcebook" - it gives national origin, meanings of the first names, and gives last names for each nationality. Ex: Byron means Bear - Radolf means Red Wolf.

Allen Johnson

I use a huge baby name book that also supplies name origins, meaning, and many alternate spellings. It also has several lists of popular names by decade, countries, and themes. Very helpful.

Craig D Griffiths

Here are the names I settled on if anyone is interested. Amy (20's), Ella (15 Amy's sister), Sue (20's Amy ex-girlfriend), Doug (Amy's dealer), Drea (was Andrea - Amy's buyer), Yuri, Isaac, Karl & Jonas. I nearly used Preston for Andrea, but it didn't sound right when it was read out.

Vince Conside

I get my ideas from athletes; College & Pro. I scan the rosters.

Michael Cantrell

You know, I often struggle with naming people myself. If it's my main characters, I usually pick names that might have some sort of secret significance and insight into their personalities, though I never mention anything about that in my actual scripts or novels.

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