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  1. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    Character Surname

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by GuardianWynn, Feb 1, 2015.

    So how do you guys pick surnames? Surname is right word right? I mean last names.

    I have a lot of characters and many have names but none have surname. I suck at names. I have like fifty characters without even first names. At the moment I am more worried about last names though since I don't even have one.

    There is no plot reasons that restricts a character's name or last name.

    I want to give a few names because well one character is adopted. She meets a blood relative and I realized that means there is going to be a moment where she hears what was her birth last name and that the name she has known is different. I want to assign such names but need help.

    So what do you guys do?
     
  2. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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  3. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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  4. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    I know that feeling. So far, the only characters in my novel that have last names are the ones who get married and the ones whose family members are also characters in the novel. It's especially annoying since it's a sci-fi/fantasy story set on a planet that has never had any contact with earth, so all the names sound really weird.
     
  5. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    So what have you done to try and deal with that problem?

    Funny enough I often refer to my character by the first thing they make me think of. Like I had a squad of 7 people part of unit of power. So I just called them by there rank number. lol. They might need some names at some point though. lol
     
  6. Void
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    Void Contributing Member

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    I just refer to them by their first names ...
    There isn't really much of a problem to deal with, characters don't strictly need last names, but it does becomes slightly jarring when only a very small handful of characters have a last name or even a middle name. Personally, I don't worry too much while writing, character names really just need to be a unique identifier on the first draft so you don't spend several paragraphs referring to them as "the unknown female," or "the guy who owns the house."
    Although, since I'm on the second draft now, I do intend to go through and add a few last names to characters and maybe some slight genealogical information.
     
  7. Lemon flavoured
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    Lemon flavoured Active Member

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    I'm writing a medieval style fantasy story, and essentially the only people with surnames are the nobility and their children (including bastards). Surnames aren't needed if you have other ways of identifying people of if all of your characters have unique names.
     
  8. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Even then, the "surname" would be indicative of something, like the "Lancaster" family were Dukes of Lancaster, "York" likewise. Henry Plantagenet gained his surname from the "Planta Genista" (Common Broom) that he wore as his badge. Harold, who died at Hastings,
    was known as Godwinson because his father's name was...guess what?

    Referring to the father's name was a common way of distinguishing one Harold from another, quite a useful device when one particular name was fashionable so all the boys (or girls) in town had the same name. Norse countries - as I understand it - still use this, so that there is no such thing as a family name. It was also common in Wales, where a boy would be Gruffydd ap Llywellyn, or a daughter would be Nest ferch Llywellyn. Wales, of course, has another problem where Jones and Evans are such common names that you could easily get confused with all the John Joneses in town...so you now have Evans Above (priest), Dai the Death (undertaker) and Jones the Goat.
     
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  9. Gawler
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    Gawler Contributing Member

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    A lot of surnames derive from old professions, that is why Smith is so common. Instead of John the Smith (whether blacksmith, goldsmith etc.) it became John Smith. Same goes for Butcher, Tailor, Farmer, Potter or Fletcher to name a few.
     
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  10. Lemon flavoured
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    Lemon flavoured Active Member

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    Indeed. All the surnames I have in my story are either based on the persons title or are patronymic (for bastards, mainly). I knew about the Welsh thing before, and it's quite interesting, but also not a surprise. IIRC the only country that still has zero legal concept of a family name is Iceland.
     
  11. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    Iceland still uses this system, but I don't know that any of the other Nordic countries do; I wouldn't be too surprised if the Faroe islands do, as well as Iceland, but I'm not sure.
     
  12. Teviya Abramson
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    Teviya Abramson Member

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    I tend to use the website BehindtheName, they have a surnames section of the website that contains surnames in about sixty or so different languages. I prefer my characters' names to have meanings that pertain to the personality of the character; for example, one of my background characters is named Leonne Chevalier, which means "lion knight" roughly translated from French. I picked that name because this character, even though you don't see her really at all, is the head of Internal Affairs for my fictional agency, and strikes terror into the hearts of anyone and everyone who has to deal with her. Her name is a reflection of her personality.
     
  13. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    I suppose that is fine is some stories, but doesn't it destroy the realism? No one in real life has a name that gives insight into their personality.
     
  14. Teviya Abramson
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    Teviya Abramson Member

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    @lustrousonion
    I don't think so... I always try to use names that one would come across in real life, and more often than not, the effect is really subtle. My character Leonne was actually a bit of an aberration, a perfect storm where the language I wanted to use (French, since Leonne's family actually comes from Haiti) produced a name that tied in perfectly with what I wanted the character to be. My two main characters, Charlotte "Charlie" Watson and Kyra Seidel, have much more subtle names, more reflective of their backgrounds than of their personalities. I definitely prefer it when it happens, but sometimes it just doesn't. And if I do my job right, most of the time readers shouldn't even realize what I've done there ;)
     
  15. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree. though sometimes it happens by accident. A character of mine named Jessica is the fastest hero of my story. She was named randomly. Apperently Jessica's origin meaning I "God's speed"
    I laughed so hard when I learned this.
     
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  16. Teviya Abramson
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    Teviya Abramson Member

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    That happened to me once too, years and years ago-- I had a character whose ultimate destiny was to be a king, and his name was Ryan. I came upon the name completely randomly, I didn't look it up or search for it or anything. Then one day I decided "what the hell" and looked up the meaning of the name. Turns out Ryan means "little king":D
     
  17. CrowOfCalamity
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    Jon Snow.
     
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