Naming the Bad Guy

Updated: May 25

One of the tricks to writing a good story is naming the characters, which includes the bad guys. All the greats excel at this.

  • J.K. Rowling (Harry v. Voldemort),

  • Steven King (Stu Redman v. Randall Flagg),

  • Mary Shelley (Frankenstein's Monster), and

  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock v. Professor Moriarty).

Each of the names invokes qualities in the characters' personalities. How could Voldemort not be a bad guy? Professor Moriarty?


So, I spend a decent amount of time thinking about names. I've scratched out so many that were absolutely awful, like Diglidonny and Ránshāo De Gǒu Shǐ. Some are bad words in other languages. Others are random syllables I put together. I go back to my names list and cringe 99% of the time, only able to pull out the occasional winner.




There are a bunch of challenges in finding a useful name. Here are a few:


Pronounceable: If they aren't easy to pronounce, then readers will abbreviate them in their head as they read. For readers like me that listen to the words in my head (I can't speed read), cumbersome names are awful.


Unique: If the names are too common, they are often easily forgotten. Worse, they can carry vibes from people the reader knows.


Too weird: If a name is so weird that it distracts the reader, like a historical fiction book about Mr Hiccupotamus Toad, a reserved bookmaker.


Cheesy: Some names are too on the mark, like the murderer named Mr. Badd or the virgin named Virtue.


Culture: This is sometimes the hardest part for me. How do I name someone from another culture. In sci-fi, there is a lot more freedom, but in speculative fiction being authentic can be challenging. It takes research to avoid stereotypical names or names that aren't offensive.


For me, it takes a ton of bad names to come up with several that I like. I take the 90/10 approach. About 90% of the names that I consider are bad, and 10% are good. Of those good names, only a few will fit a character. Here are a few baddies that I liked:


Char: A man with smoldering anger within

Dǎ: Evil Chinese AI (means fight/beat)

Talon: Angry warrior

Scarn: Ogre

Grell: Barbarian


I hope this insight into the backward thinking of my mind was entertaining. Maybe in the next hundred names, I'll find a keeper.


If you have names you'd like to see in a story, please suggest them below. Here are a few followers' suggestions for my next book(s) for goodies and baddies. I'll try to work in as many as I can.

Athena

Thurston Hammerstock

Brighton

Dustin

Razor Longshanks

Roger Grudge

Quim

Hammerstorm

Hector

Chas 'Runner' Pendegast


Here are a few resources for people interested in coming up with names:


100,000 Baby Names (eBook)

CHARACTER NAMES NOVELS for Writers (eBook)

How to Name Your Fictional Characters (eBook)

(Not sponsored)


If you suggest a name below, it may end up in my next novel. I appreciate all follows/likes on social media. Sign up below to hear more from me. Thanks.

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