Ask LA Screenwriter: Choosing Great Character Names

We’re starting a new column here at LA Screenwriter. I was reading that great Dear Abby article yesterday, and I got to thinking that a lot of screenwriters would probably benefit from an open advice column.

So if you have a question about structure or formatting or your gay neighbors — I’m open to any questions you’ve got — send me an email at LAScreenwriterBlog@gmail.com, and I’ll do my best to give you a clear, concise response.

To start things off, let’s address a pretty common question:

How do I come up with great character names?

This is a question that plagues every writer. Coming up with a name that is unique but also memorable can be an aggravating challenge.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to naming your characters. Sometimes the names really matter, and sometimes they don’t. If you’re writing a love story between two characters, for example, your audience may leave the film not remembering what the characters names were and not caring. All that matters is that it was a story of Boy meets Girl (or Girl meets Girl or Boy befriends Boy or what have you.)

On the other hand, if you’re writing an action script or an ensemble comedy where characters spend a lot of time talking about each other, character names become crucial.

Here are a few rules of thumb to help you come up with great character names:

  • Whenever possible, start all of your character names with different letters. In other words, never put a Mike and a Mark in the same script. And don’t put in names that rhyme, either. You’re going to confuse your reader.
  • Try to give your characters names that have meaning. This is a preference thing, but I like to give characters names that reflect who they are. Try searching through NameDB or any baby name website to find names that are unique and meaningful.
  • Aim for familiar, but different. Think Indiana Jones, Jack Reacher, Mr. Pink, Michael Corleone, Walter White… they all feel like names that you might come across in the every day world, but they all feel special. Try combining a common first name with a unique surname, or vice versa.
  • Say your potential character names out loud to make sure they roll off the tongue.
  • Always give your characters first and last names. You may never use the last name in the script, but it will help you make the character more complete and real.

Got a question? Email it to LAScreenwriterBlog@gmail.com. Please use the subject: Ask LA Screenwriter

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