Aurora’s Tips for Naming Characters in Science Fiction Stories

by Aurora Springer

Starship Vista SP3 by Veronica Electronica


Some of the tips are recommended to make your writing more accessible to readers and apply to all genres, while others give suggestions for inventing names for characters from other worlds.

Tip 1: The names of main characters should be easy to pronounce in English. This suggestion will make your stories easier for readers to follow. An exception might be when you want to emphasize an alien’s differences from normal humans. For example, txolixi or 2xnl.

Tip 2: The main characters should have names look and sound distinct. Avoid using names like Sam and Sal, especially for a romantically involved couple. Again, following this tip will improve the readability of your story. An exception might be when you have a set of clones with similar names, or twins where you wish to confuse their identities. I prefer to indicate gender with the name, unless the character has a reason for an ambiguous name. Is Samantha called Sam because she is a feisty independent female? Does Salvatore hate Dali and prefer to be called Sal?

Tip 3: Alien names ought to look and sound unusual. When the aliens have two sexes, I prefer to use names with feminine or masculine sounds or endings, like Suzzaine (female) or Radekis (male) in my series Atrapako on Eden. You can use a similar designation for aliens from the same world or culture. The Zarnoths in my Secret Supers Series have names beginning with hard consonants, like the villains, Rigel Zentor, Croaker and the ambassador Zharkor. Names can reflect societal differences. Clones might be designated by numbers. Some siblings in my hive society of A Tale of Two Colonies are named Flower-one, Flower-two, etc.

Tip 4:
Names can be cues to the personality of characters or describe key features. For example, the Zarnoth assassin in my Secret Supers Series is called Karockis or Croaker. The giant planetoid in the Grand Masters’ Galaxy is called Amarylla after the flower. Amarylla is a pink, flower-shaped alien female. Names can add comic effects, like the villain, Mr. Sunshine, in Super Starrella.

Tip 5: You can use names derived from different countries or cultures to indicate diversity. You can find lists on the internet. I use names to suggest a multicultural society. For example, Lira Tong and Srinivasan are two friends of the heroine, Violet Hunter, in the Grand Masters’ Galaxy, and Veena Chandra is a friend of Estelle Wright, the heroine the Secret Supers Series.

Tip 6: You can create unusual names by modifying names of characters or places in real life or from other books. For example, I took the name Athos from the Three Musketeers, and adapted it into Athanor for the Griffin Grand Master.

Tip 7: Ask your readers to suggest names.

Tip 8: Keep a list of names you like or you think would make interesting characters.

You can find a list of Aurora’s books here.

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6 thoughts on “Aurora’s Tips for Naming Characters in Science Fiction Stories

  1. Those are excellent tips, Aurora! Very straightforward and anyone following would end up with a great result. It’s funny when you read a book with unpronounceable character names – all those xs, zs etc might look alien, but they are hard for the reader!

    I also use the trick of looking at other country name lists, especially when differentiating naming conventions on different terraformed planets, including names of places.

    I think I can still do better, by also having naming variety within alien sub-cultures (as we do on our own planet), so thanks for the prompt. I will start keeping a list and stop relying on the internet for suggestions!

  2. Some great tips! I have a special place in my notebook for unusual names, and whenever I hear or read one I jot it down. I’ve found names all over the place, including my son’s school. Little does she know it, but one of the teachers there played a major role in one of my books.

  3. Fun list, Aurora! I also ask my mailing list if they want to be Tuckerized (have their names used in a story). Presto list of available names for minor characters. (I don’t think it’s fair to Tuckerize major characters.) I also ask them whether they want a character who’s good-enough, evil, or no-preference.

  4. Good stuff, Aurora! I use #3 a lot with my robots and androids in regards to numbers and letters. I took it one step further and named the mobile artificial intelligence that travels with my protagonist just one letter.

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