How to Create Authentic Screenplay Characters Part 2 of 4

Character development Part 2 – How to name your characters

Like every Legend, your primary characters need a first name and a last name. Even if their family name is never mentioned in your screenplay, you know they have one. And a full name helps make your character fully human. 

You’re the writer, so of course you can call them whatever you want, whether as a tribute to your father or vengeance to an ancient high school nemesis. 

Personally, I find baby names databases helpful for first names and news sites for surnames. I quite often change their names after early drafts when they don’t quite fit. 

Whatever you decide, make sure the name is realistic to their age and their backstory. 

For example, if your protagonist is a red-headed female in her early 50s of Irish descent, she obviously needs an Irish name. 

Or does she? 

Clarice shows her FBI identification badge to Hannibal Lector on their first meeing

What she needs is a name relevant to her age and the circumstances of her birth. 

What if your gal was born in California in the late 60s? Even though her parents are Irish, they might have emigrated as children. Or been migrant hippies. 

She might have a name like Jacqueline, the 72nd most popular girls’ name in that state in 1968, according to good ol’ Google. Or Ginger, to match both her hair and the era of Gilligan’s Island.

But, you argue: what difference does it make what I call them? Even if I sell this script, chances are the producer will insist I rename her after his/her daughter or current girlfriend, right? 

Yes, you’re not wrong; AND…names still matter. 


For one thing, it’s the first way to start digging into your Hero’s backstory. 

Few, perhaps even none of these details are likely to show up in your screenplay, unless they’re relevant to the story you’re telling now. But this exercise serves you –the writer– because the more you know about your characters’ lives, the more easily you will convey them as authentic individuals. 

Your character’s name is the glimmer in their creator’s eyes.

Pro TIP: Unless it’s critical to your story, avoid giving your characters names that start with the same letter. Your screenwriting program will automatically offer a list of your characters as soon as you type ‘J’ in the dialogue heading. If you’re in a writing frenzy, it’s too easy to hit ‘return’ and miss the error on your revisions. This opens the possibility of confusing a reader when they see JOE speaking JOANNA’s lines. But even if you don’t make that mistake, characters with names that begin with the same letter are difficult to keep track of when reading a script for the first time. Your goal is to make your story compelling, without distractions.

Read Part 3 – Describe Your Character

Leave a Comment

Copyright 2018 through 2024 © Badass Beat Boards

Search for anything