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Blog How to Invent Character Names

How to Invent Character Names

By Abi Elphinstone | Guest Blog

How to Invent Character Names

In my book, Rumblestar, I named a heroine after a brand of butter. In The Dreamsnatcher, I pinched a character’s surname from a shower gel. And in Sky Song, I pilfered the name for a kingdom from a street signpost in London. I find character and place names everywhere and for Ember Spark & The Thunder of Dragons it was no different. I named a pet dog, Babaganoush, after passing the dip section in a supermarket. I named an elderly teacher, Mrs Rickety-Knees, after listening to an old lady in the doctor’s surgery complain about her dodgy knees. I named the villain of the book, Jasper Hornswoggle, after playing with random letters on a Scrabble board. And I named the Vet to Magical Beasts, Rusty Fizzbang, after trying ice-cream from a company called Fizzbang.

Put like that, it might sound like finding character and place names is entirely random. But there’s more to it than that. In fact, I think inventing names is a bit like baking a cake. You mix several ingredients together then you wait a while until you’re sure the finished product is ready. My list of ingredients include humour, onomatopoeia and connotations. In other words, I’m on the hunt for words that will make the reader smile, that have a dramatic effect when said aloud and that create a certain picture in the reader’s mind. Then, once I’ve struck upon what I think might be a perfect name, I turn it over in my head for several days to ensure it feels right.

The word ‘babaganoush’ made me smile when I passed a tub of it in the supermarket because it’s fun to say aloud. But also, nobody ever really knows what babaganoush is – in the same way that nobody in the seaside village of Yawn, where Ember lives, really knows much about Babaganoush. Is he a Chihuahua or something else in disguise…? The character name, Mrs Rickety-Knees, holds connotations of an old lady so that’s helpful for the reader. But it’s a playful name, too, which is what I needed for an old lady who wears unicorn leggings. When naming my villain, I wanted a word that sounded sinister when spoken aloud. Often guttural words help with this so after mixing around letters on a Scrabble board I came up ‘swoggle’. I then added ‘horn’ as a prefix because horns are often associated with the devil. With Rusty Fizzbang, I wanted a name that would imply his character was old (hence ‘rusty’) but I also wanted readers to know Rusty was lively and mischievous too – indeed he tells Ember and Arno all sorts of weird and wonderful facts about magical beasts, such as unicorn farts being so loud they sometimes register as minor earthquakes. So, I combined Rusty’s name with ‘Fizzbang’ (a word I’d been storing up to use as a character name after eating Fizzbang icecream years before) because the word carried connotations of further mischief and magic. 
Published: Thu 9th May 2024

Leave a comment


I think good character names make a book and certainly keeps my son interested in the story
by Sharon McKinnon - 13-05-2024 22:01
I am not good at making up names. You are good at it!
by Melanie - 10-05-2024 18:08
Love this! This article made me smile. What fabulous ideas.
by BKB - 10-05-2024 14:25
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