You’ve got some great ideas for you Light Novel (LN) and have drawn up some character sheets. But you’re stuck on one integral aspect of those characters you’ve created.
Without a distinct name, no one will remember your character much less fall in love with her. And loveable characters are key to writing a bestselling LN.
What? Why bother? Can’t I just write my LN first and give my characters names later. There’s no real consequence, right? A, B, and C are fine for the first draft, right?
I made them, they’re no different than my cat. Whether I call him Fluffy or Dinkleswoop doesn’t matter, he’s not going to do what I ask either way.
Perhaps…but, deciding on a name for your character early on is important for two reasons:
- It makes them genuinely feel like characters making it easier to write them into your story.
- You forge a personal connection with their names and what each means for each character, which also makes it easier to write them.
Your character’s name decides his story in a way. Without a name, he cannot tie his identity to anything and that will reflect in your writing. Do you want to read a story about A and B or Alejandro and Balalaika? I’m going with the latter.
So, you must pick a name. And you should strive to make it a great one. But how?
What makes a name great? How do pick one out of the literal infinite number of potential names?
Well, there are just as many ways that might lead you to pick one name or another. And of them, there is no ‘correct’ answer. Whatever works for you is best.
That said, there are plenty of tried-and-true methods to picking great names for your characters.
All of which we be covering next. The actual name discovery process will be after that.
15 Ways to Choose the Best Names for Your Light Novel Characters
The following list is not comprehensive, but with it, you should have more than enough information to start choosing great names for your LN characters.
1. Consider First Impressions
It depends on your story, but the first impression we have of your character is her name. You could obscure her name until an important moment requires its unveiling, but typically that’s the first thing we learn about her.
And that name cements an immediate idea of your character in a reader’s mind. Regardless of whether her name matches her personality or appearance, the reader will have an idea of both just by learning her name.
For example, I have a friend named Joe. What sort-of person does that name bring to mind? Probably not an Asian one. But that’s who he is. And in learning he’s Asian, you might assume Joe is not his real name. But you’d be wrong again. He was born and raised in the USA.
The first impression created by your character’s name might not be true, but is important. So, you’re better off making use of a reader’s first impression. For example:
- Hot-blooded, passionate characters have the Japanese character for Fire (火, Hi) in their name (ex. Hikari, which also means light > bright > passionate).
- Every other Tsundere is named Rin, which is one word for Cold (凛) in Japanese.
- Serious-to-a-fault girls wielding Katanas typically have names that resemble those of Samurai. Which will feel old-timey in a contemporary setting, making the character seem old-fashioned, which she probably is.
Just your character’s name can tell a reader so much about her before they read a single line describing her.
You can use this to your advantage in two ways:
- Deliver on their first impressions by making the name match the character.
- Subvert first impressions by delivering the opposite of what readers expect. Name a hideous, muscle-bound girl after a delicate flower.
However, for the sake of making your characters more memorable, it’s better to stick with option 1. The less your characters match their names, the more readers will confuse them for someone else. This of course makes them forgettable and annoys readers. Something you should avoid.
2. Give Your Characters a Symbolic Name
A great name is a symbolic one. Symbolic meaning it is a symbol for something else—it is more than just a name.
This symbolism could be derived from any number of sources. The most common example is ‘Smith’, which is:
“originally deriving from smið or smiþ, the Old English term meaning one who works in metal related to the word smitan, the Old English form of smite, which also meant strike” – Wikipedia
So, in using the name smith, one could assume that character has a job involving working with metal, such as a blacksmith.
However, because Smith is so far removed from its original meaning and is one of the most common names on the planet, it has taken on additional meanings.
The most popular of those being: a nobody.
Smith is such a common name that it’s the same as calling someone a ‘john doe’. If we meet a character that goes by Smith, most readers will assume his name is fake, not that he works with metals (unless he’s very obviously the town blacksmith).
All that to say: you can pack buckets of symbolism into a character’s name by researching its etymology.
You can also take details about your character, see what they translate to in other languages, and use the words you discover as a name. To go back to our electrical engineer character:
Denki (Electricity) + Gishi (Engineer) = Shiki (A common LN character name)
One of my favorite tricks is naming female character after flowers. According to the Japanese Language of Flowers (Hanakotoba), each flower has very specific meaning and symbolism behind it.
So, I look for a flower with a meaning that matches my character’s personality:
- Botan (Peony, Bravery) for a character who stands up for herself despite the odds stacked against her.
- Himawari (Sunflower, Radiance) for a sunny character who brings joy wherever she goes.
- Erika (Erica, Solitude) for a lonely character who keeps to herself.
And a million more. It also helps with deciding her appearance. I make my life much easier by making her hair color the same as the flower she’s named after.
Symbolism can be deep or surface-level. Really, you don’t have to have any at all, but it can be a special treat for inquisitive readers.
I myself don’t think to investigate character names, but am always impressed by their origin if I happen to come across it.
It’s the little things like adding symbolism to a character’s name that makes them all the more memorable and loveable.
3. Base Your Character’s Name Off Who They Are
This is the ideal method to naming your LN characters. However, it requires first getting to know them. So, be prepared to fill out the rest of your character sheet before choosing a name.
And what you should know about them includes three elements that can all contribute to their name:
History and Current State
What they were doing before we meet them in your LN and what they’re doing when we meet them.
For example, your character used to be the star of the soccer team, but after some family issues that forced him to retire, he now spends all his time wandering around at night.
You could incorporate themes of ‘falling from stardom’ or ‘creature of the night’ into his name.
How would you describe your character? Is she energetic or slow-paced? Loud or stoic? Tsundere or Yandere?
If she’s someone with a lot of goals and spends all her time daydreaming, you could incorporate ‘Dream’ (夢, Yume) into her name > Yumemi, Yumeka, Yumeji
Why is your character taking part in your story? Without motivation, she has no place in your LN.
If her motivation is to win the national dancing championship, you could include the character for ‘Dance’ into her name. Mai (舞) > Maia, Maiko, Maika
And so on and so forth. Whoever your character is, you can immediately tell your audience something about him by incorporating his very being into his name.
If he’s strong, give him a manly name. Or, if he’s a wimp, but acts tough, you can still give him a manly name. The opportunities for memorable names are endless when you first take into account the true nature of your characters.
4. Give Your Characters a Nickname
A quick way to make your characters even more lovable is to give them a nickname.
Of which, there are two types.
- A nickname that is a shortened version of the characters actual name.
- A nickname that is based on the character herself. A character who specializes in electrical engineering might be called Sparky.
And there are four ways your characters actually receive these nicknames. Two for each of the above cases.
In the first case:
- You give your character a longer than average name. Readers may find it annoying to refer to her by typing the name out every time they want to discuss her online, so they shorten it. This becomes her ‘unofficial’ nickname. Readers can shorten any name into a nickname, but those that are longer than average basically demand one.
- You give your character a longer than average name and another character in your LN shortens her name. This will become her ‘official’ nickname.
In the second case (basically the same as above):
- Readers pick a nickname based on your character’s personality.
- Another character in your LN gives another a nickname based on her personality.
The benefits to giving your characters nicknames are many. Not only does it make that character all the more memorable, it fosters a sense of closeness. When you call someone by a nickname, it feels personal, like you really know each other. This makes your characters all the more loveable.
For example, I refer to all my favorite Japanese Voice Actresses (Seiyuu) by nickname:
- Yukari Tamura > Yukarin
- Ayane Sakura > Ayaneru
- Maaya Uchida > Maayayan
- Inori Minase > Inorin
- Sumire Uesaka > Sumipe
Some of those are official (as decided by fans) and some I made up…
Regardless, using them makes me feel much closer to each Seiyuu as a result. They are no longer foreign entities, but someone I know.
That breakdown between fiction and reality is what you want to achieve with your characters. Giving them nicknames makes that so much easier.
5. Make the Name Match Their Special Ability
If you’re writing a LN, your characters probably have superpowers. And if not superpowers, maybe a special talent or ability. If not, feel free to disregard this section.
But, if they do, you can simply pick names for your characters based on their abilities.
Does she use Ice Magic? Give her a ‘cold’ name.
Is he a master guitar player? Base his name off a famous guitarist’s name.
I used this method in my series, Garden of PSI. One character is a psychic who specializes in Astral Projection. This made me think of a ghost, so I incorporated the character for Spirit (霊, Rei) into her name: Reiha.
This method can also play into the character’s personality. The Ice Magic wielder is cold and stand-offish. The guitarist’s personality could match that of the person he’s named after.
This might seem a bit gimmicky, but the more you tie a character’s name into personal aspects of their character, the more memorable that name will be.
6. Your Character’s Name Needs to Match Your Story
Wherever your LN’s story takes place, it’s world, your characters names need to reflect it. Meaning, they need to fit within the context of that world. The context referring to the setting itself as well as how it operates.
Do Your Names Match Your World?
Most LNs are set in Japan, so all the characters (unless they are specially a foreigner) have Japanese names. If your setting is a real place, your characters need to have similar names to the people who actually live there.
But what do you do in the case of Science Fiction or Fantasy in which you invent a world? What kind of names do people have on the planet Winutope?
Whatever you want. But that’s not the answer you wanted, was it?
Unfortunately, it is the correct answer. However, let’s say your made-up world features buildings and landscapes that are reminiscent of 12th century France. In which case, just give your characters names that reflect that era.
Even if your setting is in space, your characters had to have come from somewhere before reaching space. Just give them names that reflect their ancestors point of origin.
I just give all my characters Japanese names regardless of setting because I’m writing a LN. No one dares question my choice of names when they see an anime girl on the front cover…
Do Your Names Match Your Story?
How important are names within the context of your story? Depending on who your characters are or who they meet in the story, each could have wildly different types of names.
In high-society, names matter a lot because they denote ones social status and upbringing. But in low-society, no one really cares and is content to others by their first name only, a nickname, or ‘hey you’.
In my series, Garden of PSI, I purposely give everyone fake names or call them by their job title because they operate out of a secret society. Should any bit of personal information leak out, it would spell disaster, so my characters’ names reflect that.
Conversely, my other series, On Creating the Ultimate Weapon, names are very important to the principal characters. Each character has 3 or 4 titles to better represent who they are as well as insinuate how important those names are.
Determine what sorts of names fits best for your setting and give your characters names to reflect their position within your world.
And as a final note—a character’s name should also reflect your LN’s genre. Weird names work great in SF, but only serve to kill immersion in a Romance or Slice of Life.
A memorable name is one that doesn’t stand out too much. Make it match your setting and genre and you’ll make your characters all the more loveable.
7. A Simple Name is Best
A memorable name is not necessarily a complex one. So, a simple name is usually your best bet. Not in the sense of ‘boring’, but ‘not complicated’.
The more annoying it is for readers to read or pronounce a name, the more likely they will gloss over it completely and refer to the character as ‘that guy’. Obviously, this makes them far less memorable.
You could keep the complicated name and call them by nickname, but only if such a name is instrumental to that character. Those coming from a noble household might have five names, but only such characters. It’d be absurd to give your character a complex name without a clear reason.
My favorite trick is giving characters ‘one-word’ names. Just think of all the famous artists or musicians you know that go by a single name. Each may be simple, but are still unique and memorable.
I rarely give my characters last names unless the story demands it. All it does is add more noise for readers to remember. Cut them a break and keep it simple.
Doing so will make a character’s name all the more memorable.
8. Avoid Similar Sounding Names
The more characters you have, the easier they are for readers to mix up. So, you should do your best to make each name distinct from each other.
This is achieved in three ways:
- Using a different letter of the alphabet for the first letter of each name.
- If you have to use the same letter, avoid similar sounding names such as Sakuya and Sakura. Instead, use Sakuya and Shiori so only the first letters are shared.
- If they must have the same letter and be similar sounding, introduce the characters far apart from each other. If you introduce Sakuya and Sakura in the same scene, no one will remember which is which later.
One memorable example of the negative consequences of abusing similar names was when I had my dad and sister watch the Fate/Zero anime.
Not only were all the principal characters similar-looking old dudes (a world apart from the rainbow-hair-colored characters they were used to), they also had very similar-sounding names.
This led to neither of them being able to tell any of the characters apart, so they had no idea what was going on. Case in point, here are some of the offending names:
- Emiya, Kiritsugu
- Kotomine, Kirei
- El-Melloi Archibald, Kayneth
- Matou, Kariya
- Toosaka, Tokiomi
And that’s not even all the offending Ks. Worst of all, each of those characters are instrumental to the story and show up a lot.
Needless to say, all those Ks became a running gag in my family. There are simply too many similar sounds that only serve to confuse. It didn’t faze me, but to the uninitiated, it’s a giant pain.
Even if you have a bunch of cool, meaningful names, scrap them if they all start with the same letter or sound the same.
A name can only be memorable if readers can tell it apart from the others.
9. Aim for a Unique Name—Don’t Worry if It’s Not
You should always strive for unique (not complicated) names, but trying to give every character a unique name is a difficult task.
So, don’t worry if it’s not unique. I try to make mine unique within the context of my LNs. Meaning, my main characters stand out because they have unique names within that world (like if you meet a Russian in the USA, his name may be unique to you, but it’s plain and boring back home in Russia).
But in actuality, all my names are lifted from other Otaku media characters. Not an outright copy and paste, you should never copy-paste an entire name from somewhere else, but it’s OK to mix and match elements of different names.
No matter what name you pick, it will never be unique anyway. Someone somewhere has either thought of it or used it in his LN.
But that is not grounds to force uniqueness. You should make it sound like could be a real name. The more ridiculous a name, the less happy your readers. If their initial impulse is ‘yea, I don’t even begin to know how to pronounce that’, maybe pick another.
Besides, what ultimately makes a character’s name memorable is not his name, but the character himself. The best example is Harry Potter. His name was intentionally designed to sound like it could be anyone, not a great hero.
And yet, few people in the world don’t know that character. His name is famous because he is famous, not the other way around.
So, focus less on picking a perfect ‘unique’ name and just write a great character. They’ll be far more memorable and loveable if you do. Though a fanciful name wouldn’t hurt…
10. Avoid Giving Your Characters Silly Names
While doing research for this article, I came across several people recommending you give your characters ‘silly’ names. And while there were plenty of examples where that worked, I can’t recommend you try.
Unless you’re writing a Comedy LN that doesn’t have a lick of seriousness in it, you risk ruining a reader’s immersion.
For example, nearly all the villains in the LN series HEAVY OBJECT have ridiculous ‘Engrish’ names like Sir Vladabing Bananaburger (my invention, but it’s not far from the truth).
That can be funny and all, but it only serves to distract from the rather heavy topics of geo-political strife covered in the rest of the LN.
If it was all comedy all the time, such a name would fit, but there’s only sporadic sections of comedy. Silly names don’t mesh with rest of the LN.
If you include too many silly names or any at all in any genre besides Comedy, it risks breaking readers’ immersion and devaluing the overall experience.
For example, if your villain is silly and has a silly name, but your characters still have to fight him seriously, it’s going to feel a little absurd if the fate of the world is in the hands of Hugh Mungus Bellend.
Names don’t need to be silly to be memorable.
11. Have Fun with Your Character’s Name
Never think you have to stick with one name or another. If what you’ve got works, but doesn’t feel ‘just right’, try playing around with it. You could:
- Swap the first and last names. Jackson Blade > Blade Jackson (Cheesy, but hardcore)
- Try and alternative spelling. You’d be amazed at how many ways people spell Ashley nowadays (Ashleigh, Ashlee, Ashlie).
- Give them more names. The more they have, the more likely readers will remember at least one of them, right? Plus, it can make a character seem more important or powerful. Yuki Kibanohara > Sorceress Yuki Kibanohara, Destroyer of Milk Cartons.
And, in the case of Japanese names, you can move syllables around or swap them out for others.
For example: one of my characters has a twin sister, so their names are sort-of mirrored. Kasumi and Sumika.
Japanese is a wonderful language where the syllables do not equate with English ones. Instead of like the word ‘in-stead’ having two syllables, all Japanese syllables are 1, 2, or 3 Roman characters.
Mi-chi-o is considered three syllables in Japanese, but only one in English.
So, you can mix and match syllables far more easily in Japanese, which makes naming Japanese characters so much easier.
Just be sure to compare your chosen name to actual Japanese ones lest it sound completely ridiculous to any long-time Otaku like me who can easily tell when a name ‘sounds right’ or doesn’t.
You can name your character whatever you like, so don’t get too stuck on one name or another. Just play around with what you’ve got until it clicks.
12. Make Use of Prefixes and Suffixes
Japanese culture is all about one’s social standing. You may be familiar with several of the suffixes attached to your favorite characters’ names. Such as:
- –chan (a female friend)
- –kun (a male friend)
- –san (a safe catch-all suffix, usually translated to Mr. or Mrs.)
- –senpai (anyone with seniority over you whether it be in school or the workplace)
- –sensei (anyone you would consider a teacher, like an actual schoolteacher, but it is always used to refer to Authors and Physicians)
And it’s those last two you can make use of when naming your characters.
Rather than call a character by their actual name, another character could refer to them as Senpai or Sensei. Of course, this only works when there is one Senpai or Sensei in your story. Any more and readers will have no clue which one your character is referring to.
That said, I would avoid using explicitly Japanese terms in your English-Language LN. All major publishing houses in the USA ‘localize’ the text by removing all the above suffixes. Senpai and Sensei should be safe given how popular they are as terms, but –chan/-kun/-san are off-limits.
However, you can still utilize the prefix/suffix logic by using:
- Sir (A Knight)
- Doctor (A Physician)
- Count (A Noble)
Adding a prefix/suffix to your character’s name can make him all the more memorable. Plus, it can work like a nickname. When one character refers to the ‘Doc’, we know who he’s talking about.
Use the above tactic sparingly and with caution, but don’t be afraid to test how it might add to your character’s name.
13. Don’t Use Your Own Name
I saw the advice to ‘use your own name’ elsewhere as well. But again, I disagree.
There are plenty of famous examples, but simply too many drawbacks to justify it. Using your own name will only serve to distract you in the long run.
If you identify a character with yourself, you’ll subconsciously pigeonhole yourself into writing how you yourself would act in a situation rather than that character.
It can work, but you had better be a super interesting character IRL if we’re going to be stuck with you through an entire series.
That and it just distracts from a reader’s overall experience. Once they know the Author is a character in the book, that’s all they’ll be able to associate that character with.
It’s good for a gag, like Hideo Kojima showing up in his Video Games, but that’s about it.
Ultimately, naming a character after yourself only serves to break a reader’s immersion. The name may be memorable, but not for a particularly interesting reason.
14. Consider Your Character’s Role in the Story
A unique or memorable name suggests how important a character is to your story.
Before spending a ton of effort picking the perfect name for your character, ask what role they play in your story. Do they deserve a meaningful name? Do they deserve a name at all?
Major characters deserve special treatment. If we’re going to be with them through the whole series, they need memorable names.
Secondary characters depend. If they’re important in volume three, but don’t show up again until volume seven, maybe don’t put too much effort into their name. But if they show up more frequently, make it memorable.
Minor characters also depend. If they barely matter at all, you can just call them by their function in the story. The innkeeper’s name can be Innkeeper. The old man they help cross the street can be Old Man.
But if you have recurring minor characters, like the same taxi driver who drives the characters around town, give him a name. Not one packed with meaning, you just want readers to know he’s more important than just some random taxi driver.
The more important his role, the more memorable you should try to make his name. The less important his role, well, honestly, you should strive to make every name memorable, but don’t worry too much if your minor characters don’t have memorable names.
15. Don’t Worry About Your Character’s Name Too Much
Despite everything I’ve said about the importance of your character’s name, I still wouldn’t worry about it too much.
As I was doing research for this article, I discovered the deep meaning behind several famous characters names.
I had no idea any of those names had so much symbolism behind them. And its cool the Author put that much thought into it, but still, I had no idea and didn’t really care to learn.
Ultimately, names are just that—names. They may have an etymological meaning or metaphorical one, but the great majority or readers won’t even notice or care.
I mean, do you ponder the origin of all your friends’ names? Your own name? Usually someone else has to tell you for you to even care.
What makes a character memorable is not their name, but the story they’re in and the things they do in that story. The name just becomes another thing to remember them by.
So, if you feel like your name’s not good enough, don’t fret. A great character can make up for a not-so-great name. Conversely, the best name ever cannot save a lame character.
The Best Methods to Find Names for Your Light Novel Characters
So, with all that in mind, it’s time to pick a name.
Well, what are waiting for? Go on, what more do you need?
What? You want me to tell you where to find names?
Fine, fine. Just know that the following resources and methods are not guaranteed to make you decide on a name. That task ultimately falls on you. But I can get you close.
As far as I know, there are two ways to find names: an easy way and a not-so-easy way.
The Easy Way to Pick a Name
This method involves leaving your character’s name up to a somewhat random chance.
First, you go find any resource that has a list of names. Some examples:
- Baby Name Lists
- Phone Books
- Your School Yearbooks
- Anime Character Database
And my favorite: a ‘name generator’. And as you might suspect, it’s a simple program that generates names.
You can find all sorts of them for every genre and medium. Just Google search:
(Whatever genre you’re writing) Name Generator
- Anime name generator
- Japanese name generator
- Victorian England name generator
Once you’ve found a resource that fits your needs, start searching. Dig through thousands upon thousands of names until you find something that clicks.
Yep. That’s it. Easy, right? Maybe for some, but it takes about a million names before I finally pick one. And even then, I usually toss it and make up my own name later.
This is known as the Paradox of Choice in which too many choices doesn’t make life easier like it should, but paralyzes you instead.
The more options, the less likely you are to feel safe picking just one. There could be a better name on a list you haven’t seen yet. So, you pick nothing at all or are dissatisfied with your choice.
Furthermore, there are three other drawbacks to the easy method:
- You don’t forge a personal connection to the name because you’ll always be haunted by the knowledge you didn’t ‘make it up yourself’.
- The lists only contain names the creator put in them. Eventually, it will run out of names. And you definitely aren’t getting as many suggestions as you might benefit from.
- The name is ultimately hollow. It wasn’t chosen based on your character’s unique traits, but by a somewhat random chance.
This method is great for gathering ideas. You can’t divine a name on your own without having seen several examples first. And if one of the names you find just so happens to perfectly match your character’s personality, great, use it.
But for those who want a more personal naming method, we have—
The Not-So-Easy Way to Pick a Name
This method necessitates first writing everything about your character and second taking into account the above 15 tips.
Rather than leave a character’s name up to chance, you’ll be basing it off who they are.
Your character is a unique individual whose name should reflect that. Their personality, past, and appearance should all be taken into account before giving them a name. The benefits of doing so are the opposite of the first method’s drawbacks:
- You forge a personal connection with that name because you know why they have that specific name.
- You have an infinite number of names to choose from and are able to narrow them down based on your specific needs.
- The name will be packed with meaning. Not only did you choose it yourself, you put a lot work into choosing it.
However, this process involves a lot of agony trying to get your character’s name ‘just right’. But when you do, it will make your character’s name all the more memorable (at least to you).
The actual choosing of a name once you’ve designed your character is a bit tricky as everyone’s naming process will be different.
I can’t give you explicit 100% success rate instructions, but will share my own method, which is based on several of the tips shared above:
- Design my character by filling out their entire character sheet.
- Look up Japanese words related to my character’s ability or personality (if giving them a Japanese name).
- Visit Anime Characters Database, sort by names alphabetically, and dig through those containing the syllables or Kanji I looked up earlier until I find one that clicks.
I still rely on the ‘easy method’ of picking from a list of names, but the name I end up choosing isn’t completely random. And I significantly narrow my choices to names that start with ‘Ha’ or ‘Mi’ for example, making it far easier to choose.
You can always change a character’s name later, but for the sake of that strong personal connection, you should dedicate at least a little extra effort to giving them one that they’d be proud of.
Naming Your Light Novel Characters is Easy
With the knowledge you have now, anyway.
There are plenty of ways to make your character’s name memorable. And just as many resources to help you find that perfect name.
But don’t forget her name is not the only thing that makes your character loveable.
She can have the best name out of every LN character ever, but no one will remember it if she’s poorly written.
Strive to give your characters great names, but don’t forget to put just as much effort into making the rest of their aspects shine.
Do you have a favorite method for naming your characters? Feel free to share it down below.
Don’t even know how to make a character? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with this article: LINK