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 or literary references (e.g. Ozymandias is acutely aware of human limitations/mortality, which also happens to be the main theme of the poem Ozymandias). Please note that you can either gloss over the symbolism or skip over it — e.g. Watchmen and Breaking Bad spent less than a minute discussing where “Ozymandias” and “Heisenberg” came from.
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. A name which sounds like it might actually be a given name (e.g. Sylar, Heisenberg, Neo, etc). There might also be some symbolism to the name picked (e.g. Sylar naming himself after a watch company or an unusually volatile chemist naming himself after the German god of uncertainty*). Vaguely realistic names help adult readers take the character seriously and make for more natural dialogue. In particular, if the character has to be intimidating at any point, a name like “The Punisher” would be a serious liability — a name which tries too hard to be badass is probably goofy.
*And also a brilliant teacher/scientist who involved himself in shady business. In addition to his work on Nazi Germany’s nuclear program, Dr. Heisenberg once murdered a rival with his Nobel prize — true story.
6.1. A name which actually is a given name (e.g. Luke Cage or Hex Abrams).
7. Something based on the character’s superpowers (e.g. the Human Torch) AS A LAST RESORT. Names like this strike me as a red flag that the character is not very interesting. If the most interesting thing about the character really is his/her superpowers, I’d recommend going back to the drawing board and thinking about things like personality, goals/motivations, theme, and whatever else distinguishes your character from characters with similar superpowers.
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?