Nov 06 2011
First, I’d like to reiterate that superhero names generally don’t matter very much and probably won’t mean the difference between getting published and getting rejected. That said, if you can’t come up with a superhero name or a team name, here are some possible sources of inspiration.
1. Something thematically and/or symbolically appropriate. For example, “Captain America” is more interesting than “Shield Throwing Man,” because the America and military angles matter more to his story than the details of his superpowers. Alternately, Oracle can’t actually predict the future, but her name sort of makes sense because her main role is providing information and assistance. There are also a bevy of characters named after mythological references.
2. An emotional impression. Some characters have names that evoke the right emotions, but aren’t related to the characters’ powers. Some heroic examples include Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter, as opposed to villainous examples like Venom and Carnage.
3. Something in the character’s origin story. For example, Green Lantern is named after the source of his powers (and his organization). Batman is named after a bat even though his powers aren’t actually bat-related. (Unless bats are secretly master ninja-scientist-detectives. That’d go a long way to explaining how the bats trapped in my attic have survived this long, actually).
4. The character’s goal. This is more common in team names (e.g. the Avengers or any name with Guardians in it), but names like The Punisher or The Question make it pretty clear what the characters want to accomplish.
5. The character’s personality and/or distinguishing traits, particularly mental ones. For example, Rorschach is mentally unstable, unpredictable and a psychiatric case. The Taxman Must Die has a mutant alligator named Agent Orange that is helpful and (probably) safe for humans.
6. The character’s actual name (e.g. Luke Cage rather than Power Man). If the superhero doesn’t have a secret identity, I’d recommend considering this approach, especially if you have a lot of superheroes. It makes it easier for readers to remember everybody’s name and who’s who. (If you’re not sure whether your readers can follow which character has which secret identity, try quizzing your beta readers a few chapters or an issue after you’ve introduced the code-name). Alternately, it might help to introduce the code-names or regular names gradually. For example, X-Men: First Class held off on the code-names until about halfway through the movie.
7. The character’s superpowers (e.g. the Human Torch and Paste Pot Pete*). Generally, I would recommend this only as a last resort because it’s probably the most cliche of these and because it suggests that the character’s superpowers are the most notable thing about the characters. If superpowers really are the most important thing about them, I’d recommend going back to the drawing board and thinking about things like personality, goals/motivations, theme, etc.
*Paste Pot Pete has since been renamed, and not to free it up for somebody else.
7.1. If you post below for help coming up with a name for a superhero, please give us more to work with than just the character’s superpowers. What does the character have going on besides superpowers? Personality? Interesting goals/motivations? Anything which would help distinguish this character from superheroes with a similar power-set?