How to Name Your Antogonist

Contributed by Dave Chesson

Is there anything more memorable than a decidedly sinister antagonist?

I’m not talking about ‘realistic’ villains who operate in something of a moral grey area.

Instead, I mean the true villains that leave a strong impression even after the book is finished.

The Voldemorts. The Count Draculas. The Patrick Batemans.

Crafting a character that speaks so strongly of pure evil is a whole different article. Perhaps even a full course. Instead, today, we’ll focus on finding a suitably fiendish name.

Make It Genre Appropriate

Just as there are tropes to adhere to in different genres, there are also expectations regarding names.

It would seem strange if a character in a historical drama set in Elizabethan England had a name like Stacy. Or if a hero in a steampunk story was called Denzel Bladez.

Similarly, the name for your story’s villain should be suitable for the genre you are writing in. So what are some of the ways to apply this idea?

●    Read voraciously within the genre you are writing in to get an idea of naming conventions. You should read within the genre anyway, but pay particular attention to villain’s names. Are there any stylistic themes that emerge? What about conventions of format? For example, all the villains within a historical genre may have a formal title, such as Mr. or Sir, whereas in crime they may go by an alias such as The Raven or The Steel Claw.

●    Get feedback from real readers on what is and isn’t working within a particular genre. Read through reviews on sites like Amazon and Goodreads. Which villains receive praise? Which receive mockery? Learn from these opinions.

●    Feel free to run polls testing several villains names. You can easily create a poll in a Facebook group of relevant readers to see which of several potential names they prefer.

Just as you would with any other element of your story, make sure your villain’s name works for that style of story specifically.

Consider Symbolism

A symbolic name might not be the right choice for every story, but it can work well for certain types.

A symbolic villain name is of course any name that carries a hidden or subtle meaning. These have been used by writers throughout history to add a layer of literary meaning to their villains which wouldn’t exist if the name was merely conventional.

So how can you add a touch of symbolism when naming your villain?

●    Consider examples of other symbolic villains throughout the history of stories. For example, Cruella de Vil isn’t exactly subtle, but it sounds like ‘cruel devil’, does it not?

●    Consider using a name with a different meaning in a foreign language which might not be obvious to all readers but will reward those who take the time to look into it.

●    Consider naming your villain after a famous historical figure. For example, within the TV show ‘Lost’, many of the characters had surnames relating to famous historical figures.

Symbolism should be used subtly. If you can avoid being overly obvious, you can add a layer of reward for your readers who take the time to dig deeper.

Life Is The Best Source Material

Sometimes, drawing upon your own life experience is the best way to come up with a suitably scary name for your villain.

Think back throughout your personal first and second-hand experience. Which names stand out to you as scary?

●    Often, a name on its own won’t be scary. But perhaps you had a sinister teacher whose name and physical traits paired to create a truly horrific combination.

●    Think about evil people you’ve read about in the news. Which of their names seemed appropriately evil for their deeds, and why?

●    Often, the seeming normality of someone’s name adds a sinister edge to their acts. Bret Easton Ellis gave the outwardly respectable Wall Street banker in American Psycho the plain name of Patrick Bateman to devastating effect.

Drawing upon your own life experience gives you not only potential names to consider, but also emotional truth to draw upon when writing your antagonists.
Naming Your Antagonist Final Thoughts
Thanks for checking out my guide on naming your antagonist.

I’d like to open up the discussion.

Which are your favorite villainous monikers throughout literature? What do you think makes them particularly effective?

How did you name your last villain?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Dave Chesson is a self-published author and book marketing obsessive who runs Kindlepreneur. His free time is spent with his family in Franklin, TN and nerding out over the latest sci-fi.


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Karen Cioffi said...

Hi, Dave, thank so much for sharing with us. Finding just the right name for the antagonist is as important as choosing the protagonist's name. I think some authors, especially new one, don't understand that.

Melinda Brasher said...

Naming major characters is something I hate. It's funny, because for some writers that's the only thing they have when they start: some great name. For me, I often start writing my manuscripts without knowing the characters' names, and just insert something like [MC] into my documents. Later, when I know the character better, sometimes a name rises up. Then I search and replace.

Karen Cioffi said...

Melinda, I kind of do the same thing. I use random work names if I don't have a character's name in place. Eventually, the name shouts out!

Dave Chesson said...

Absolutely, and its so true. Glad you liked it.

Dave Chesson said...'re definitely not alone!

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