How to Name A Villain In 6 Creative Steps

POSTED ON Apr 20, 2023

Jackie Pearce

Written by Jackie Pearce

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When it comes to villains in a book, coming up with a great name is half of the battle.

The name can make or break how popular a villain becomes. For example, imagine if Darth Vader was instead called Mr. Magoo.

Would he be nearly as terrifying or taken as seriously with such a silly name? Of course not.

Choosing how to name a villain is no easy task, but there are a few ways you can come up with the perfect name. Let's dive in.

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Why Come Up With A Villain

Villains can come in all shapes and sizes and can be in almost any kind of book.

From novels to short stories and comics, we all love a well-written villain.

Now, a villain does not always mean that it is one in the comic sense. It can just be a truly horrible person in a story.

For example, think of Annie Wilkes from the novel Misery by Stephen King. She is just a regular person but no one would argue that she is not a villain in ever sense of the word.

Her name, while sweet sounding, is even more terrifying because she sounds so sweet but is also so cruel.

What Makes A Character A Villain?

The actual definition of villain is, “(in a film, novel, or play) a type of character whose evil actions or motives are important to the plot.”

Meaning, you do not want a character who is just evil for the sake of evil. What the villain does needs to have an impact on the main protagonist or the overall plot of the story.

Keep in mind, villains are different form antagonists. Villains have evil, malicious, and malevolent intent behind what they do.

Now, there are some villains that blur the lines in stories, so it will be up to you to determine what kind of character you want. (Also, readers will put their own interpretations on your characters, as well.)

For example, people argue endlessly about whether the Joker from the Batman comics is a villain or a misunderstood character.

Villains have their own justifications and perception on the world that justifies their actions. If you are going to write a villain, you should spend your time figuring out what those are.

Why Villains Need A Unique Name

Keep in mind, this does not always have to apply, but villains often have a perfect name that encapsulates who they are and what role they play.

A cool villain name can help them stand out in a story. You probably remember villain from when you were younger.

How to Name A Villain

While we have covered what villains are defined as, and why they need a unique name, let's start to dive into what it takes to create one.

#1 – Think about what the character represents

First, you will want to think hard about your character and what they believe in, their own ethos, and the things they are trying to push on the world.

Let's go through some infamous villains and talk about it from this angle.

Poison Ivy – Poison Ivy is a character from the DC Comics who is a botanist and biochemist with a poisonous touch. She can also control plants, which is why her name is so perfect since poison ivy is a beautiful but dangerous plant.

Darth Vader – The word “vader” comes from the German/Dutch translation of the same word which means father. So, Darth Vader is literally the dark father.

Captain Hook – His name is quite literal since he got the name from his hook that replaced his severed hand.

Nurse Ratched – Ken Kesey, the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, based this name on a real person he met.

#2 – Get creative

As you can see, you can use literal names for your characters, implied things about them, or do translations from other languages in order to create a cool name.

If you want to use other languages as inspiration: Take the list of things your character represents and translate them into other languages to see if you can get a cool idea.

Sometimes people will go to the basics of Latin to figure out the meaning of some words to use in their names.

If you want to take it an extra step with your creativity, you could combine words, too. You might find two different words that describe your character and combine them together.

Just like with the Darth Vader meaning the dark father.

The sky's the limit for when you want to get creative with a villain.

#3 – Use a name generator or look at lists

There are a lot of various name generators or long lists that you could use.

If you are truly stuck you can look online for various name generators to see if anything can help spark some creativity.

It will not often work because it is so random, but it can be a good place to start to grab some inspiration.

If you have built up an audience as an author, you could always come up with some options and then poll your audience to see which one they like the best.

#4 -Use clever ideas

You will want to think of ways you can be creative with your villains.

One way to do that is to do a slightly “ironic” name.

For example, in Harry Potter, Dolores Umbridge is one of the most evil characters throughout the story. However, her name is almost cute so you do not think that she will be a villain.

It is a way to have the reader not suspect that character as being a problem until it start to happen. Sometimes even giving them an especially happy or bubbly name can really hide the fact they are evil, just like in the earlier example of Annie Wilkes from Misery.

No one would suspect someone named Annie is going to end up breaking your ankles.

#5 – Research “bad” or “evil” names across the world

You can look up different translations of names all over the world to see if you can get a cool name to come out of it.

There are also just some names across all kinds of cultures that mean evil or dark things.

For example, el diablo translates the devil in Spanish. You obviously can choose to use something else, but there are so many languages across the world that have interesting words for things.

Bringing in another Harry Potter reference, Draco Malfoy has the Latin word for “bad” in his name: mal.

#6 – Consider a nickname for them

Some people even choose to give a character a main name but to give them a nickname that some people refer to throughout the story.

The nickname can be something the villain is known for or something they do throughout the story.

You could also pick a nickname based on how you want your readers to feel about a character, too. You do not want to confuse your reader with too many nicknames, so keep it simple and only give them one or two at most.

Just like in Star Wars, Darth Vader was not that name at first. In the beginning he was Anakin Skywalker.

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