Naming characters: The Inkwell with Vanessa Gebbie

 In The Inkwell

In this blog series, The Inkwell, award-winning author Vanessa Gebbie shares writing tips and exercises to keep your writing mind in motion during lockdown.


Hi Inkwell-dippers – how you doing?   

I hope you had a good time with last week’s Inkwell gate game.  

This week, we’re going to have a look at names for your characters. How do you name them? Some writers, like me, can’t write a single sentence unless I know the name of my character. Other writers have a placeholder name for ages, until the right one appears.

I’m going to suggest you look up a few baby names websites. There are many of these, for all cultures, all countries, all different languages too. Boy babies and girl babies. 

Take a look at not just names for the present day but names that were popular, say 25 years ago, 50 years ago, 100 years ago. 

List a few that strike you as interesting for some reason – and sketch out what the name tells you about the possible character who will wear it well.

A Clarence will be very different to a Brian. 

A Clementine will be very different to a Betty. 

Julius will differ from Hank in so many ways. 

Tom, Tommo, Thomas, Tomas, Tommy, Tommie … each one is slightly different, isn’t it! 

Think of the differences that come out as you think round the names.

Social class?

Age/era?

Education level?

Geographical setting? 

And many more.

Have fun!


Vanessa Gebbie is a novelist, short fiction writer, poet, editor and writing tutor with ten books out there somewhere – including Short Circuit, Guide to the Art of the Short Story (Salt), editions i and ii, for which she was commissioning and contributing editor. She has taught for The Arvon Foundation, The Arts Council,  London’s Spread the Word, The Word Factory, Curtis Brown Creative and New Writing South among others. She is self-isolating in Sussex.