1. CharlestsWhitfield
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    CharlestsWhitfield Member

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    Coming Up with Character Names

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by CharlestsWhitfield, Jan 22, 2014.

    How do you come up with your character names? Do they just pop into you head? Do you use one of the many free name generators?

    I have a real problem with creating good character names. I have first names written but last names for me are hard. I can't come up with good character last names

    What are your methods for coming up with good character names?
     
  2. Wyr
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    Wyr Active Member

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    I like to browse the baby name sites until I come across something that strikes my fancy. Many of them also include surname databases and I my process is usually the same for them, though I try to make sure that both names sound phonetically pleasing together.

    For fantasy/made up names I just roll different sounds around in my head until I mash together a few that I like and sound good. If I'm stuck I'll go back to the name databases and play Frankenstein with the different syllables.
     
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  3. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I write general fiction, so I don't have to worry about making up names. I usually go with simple first names, often short, based on what I like. Last names are trickier, though since I'm an IT guy who works with users all day there's never a shortage of names to steal. If I need a name of a specific ethnic origin (Irish/Indian/Swedish/etc heritage character) then I'll use an online resource like Behind the Name.

    My current project has been easier, though, since none of the characters have surnames--it's set in what appears to be Biblical times before the twists start coming.
     
  4. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    If you're having a problem coming up with last names for your characters, then simply don't use them, unless you actually need them for your story. No reader will care, as long as the characters are interesting and they have some sort of first name or nickname.

    Sometimes my characters' names mean something that they'll be doing later on e.g. browsing synonyms for death if he's going to kill someone. It's just a personal thing of mine. I very rarely change a character's name once I've started with it, however, so I do take a couple of days to mull it over. But in the end, everyone's different; if you don't yet know a character's name, then just use a generic name (e.g. Jack or Jill) throughout the entire first draft and change it afterwards. Maybe your character will grow into a new name, or even fit into the generic one you've assigned them. In the end, every real kid has to suit their names, and it's not often that you think, "Oh, that name really doesn't suit them." You just have to get used to it, and the character will too. :)
     
  5. Danielle Fatzinger
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    Danielle Fatzinger New Member

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    Usually I'll use a baby name website or book for the first names, and last names I keep on hold until I see or hear one that seems to fit unless I truly need to pick one immediately. I once ran through a cemetery to look at the headstones and found a last name that way. I've started keeping little address books full of first names I like and whether or not I've used them before to help the name-picking process, because I already know I like the names in them.

    One thing I'm writing has a family with a fire theme to their names, so there's Blaise, Ash, Inpherno, and Edana (meaning little fire). I need one more character in that family, so I'll just look up names that have to do with fire or smoke.
     
  6. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Baby name sites/books, phone book, spam, people I know... I generally will choose a surname at the same time, even if I never actually use it. I might find a need for it and I don't want to divert from the writing just to pick one. My only criteria for that is that it isn't unintentionally "distracting" (so no Ima Runt or Tom Tenaby).
     
  7. Wyr
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    Wyr Active Member

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    @Danielle Fatzinger
    Ignatius :p
     
  8. Liam Johnson
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    Liam Johnson Member

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    Ironically, I just got through reading an article about the thinking some authors place behind naming their characters, especially the lead. Paraphrasing: names are constructed to have some kind of subconscious impact on the reader, e.g. Vic Wilcox, chosen for the impression of aggressiveness and masculinity, through its connections to 'victory', 'will' and 'cock'. The name Penrose was another one discussed-- as you can imagine. I dunno how much impact any of this would actually have on the reader but, apparently, it's been a part of the craft for many years.

    Of course, postmodernism being what it is these days, I could well expect parodies and the reverse of this taking place, i.e. authors choosing the most mundane name ever on purpose to convey a super-realist impression on the reader but hey, why not give it a try? At least you can express some meaning behind the name, I tried one of those name generators once, the first name it gave me was "Lydia Tchaikovsky" and I went: "No."
     
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  9. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Usually I pick the first name that comes to mind, which is why I get a lot of repeats. I also have to really narrow my boys names down because I've known several group homes and I don't want some former teenager suing me for defamation. Seriously. The stories I could tell.

    I've also changed how I view names after reading the amazing baby name book Beyond Jennifer & Jason. Names really are people's first impression - a little scary when you think of the whacked out choices on the internet - lol.
    I pick by sound, by beauty of letters and sometimes when I want something deep - I choose them by meaning. Sometimes I love paying homage - I love the name Dexter cause Cary Grant played a Dexter. And Weena from The Time Machine. I remember the author Katherine Paterson did this for The Great Gilly Hopkins - the mc's mother named her Galadriel after the Lord of the Rings which she hated so she was always called Gilly.
     
  10. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I look in baby name sites and news articles. Sometimes, for last names, I'll search "English last names" to see common last names. (Or from other countries.)

    Then, I do a search on the full name to make sure a celebrity or known serial killer isn't out there with that name. Or character from another book.
     
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  11. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Seventhsanctum.com has a name generator based on US census data. It'll instantly provide you with any number of original names and you can mix and match from there.
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I pull them out of my -- I just come up with them spontaneously.

    B ut I pay attention to names all the time, from people I've known, news stories, movie credits, even from books.
     
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  13. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Can we get a mod to sticky this post? It's like the 50th one one name generation.
     
  14. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    I used behindthename.com for my MC (Dante, which means enduring), but the influence character tells people her name is an acronym (BES, Bio Engineered Sentient), when in actuality, it was her name long ago when she had a body. Also, the title Dante takes, Ro'shaan, is a name of BES' counterpart.

    Ro'shaan is a name I remembered from a "Buck Rogers in the 21st Century" TV show, though I think the spelling was Roshon. It just stuck with me all these decades. BES...I think I worked out an acronym that made a name, then decided that it was her name in life. It's similar to Bess, a diminutive of Elizabeth, but I thought it sounded very Earthy.
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2014
  15. DeathandGrim
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    DeathandGrim Contributing Member

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    This just comes naturally to me. It just pops in my head like the character SHOULD be named this. Very rare that I make a name change.
     
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  16. Albirich
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    Albirich Active Member

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    I always need the name before I can make the characters personality and such.

    I come up with names on the go - I edit real names - I check around on behindthename and edit them if necessary. Some times the name just comes to me in the shower ( a lot of ideas pop in there ._. ) If the character is meant to be you'll find the appropriate name.
     
  17. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    My current MC's name is Statutor. It serves a double meaning for me; statue as to represent a leader that hides their fear and guilt under a veil of charisma, and stat because he moves quickly.
     
  18. Mans
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    Mans Contributing Member

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    Sometimes choosing the character names dependent on the story theme. The writer must choose them based on the theme and the time. Also it dependent on the personality of the characters as well. Usually he has to choose the names which is more matched with his story characters.
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I grab a magazine and look at the names in the masthead. There's usually a nice variety.

    Edited to add: Do I mean the masthead? Whatever it's called, I mean the page near the front that lists the publisher, editors, and so on.
     
  20. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I personally have a list of names I like when it comes to real names.
    For fantastical ones, I roll sounds that are pleasing to me at the time and that seem to reflect well on the character.
     
  21. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I keep my eyes open for interesting names all the time, and sometimes use online resources already listed here. I've also used dictionaries, or taken some foreign word (preferably of a language I know) and molded it into a name. I've rarely had to go out of my to find a name. The name of my current female MC came to me from a Leaves' Eye song. Unfortunately most people will probably think it's from a very famous French movie. Oh well.
     
  22. Cailinfios
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    Cailinfios Member

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    For fantasy names... Babynames sites, babyname sites, babyname sites!
    I have a "Masterdocument" where I write down any name (or mash of letters thats sounds nice, w/e) together and I scroll through until I find one I like.
    For fiction or sci-fi, I use this random name generator: http://random-name-generator.info/ cuz if I were to come up with a name of my head it would probably be "Bob Smith" or something similarly boring.
     
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  23. Liam Johnson
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    Liam Johnson Member

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    Amelie?
     
  24. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    Consider who your characters are, think about their family backgrounds. Do they come from a long line of butchers (perhaps, their name is Blood-Its a real name, I looked it up)? Perhaps your character is an aristocrat and lives in a stately home (name suggestion, Homity-Smyth, the thirteenth) Or perhaps they are of mixed race: their mother white British and their father Chinese (name suggestion, William Ho).
     
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2014
  25. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I have this horrible habit of easily coming up with a minor character's name when I need one ...and then later on in the story, I forget what I named that character and start calling him something else! Of course this doesn't happen with major characters, but minor ones. I generally have no problem coming up with these stupid, forgettable names ...unfortunately! o_O I found at least three instances of this little gaffe during the first edit of my completed first draft. Yeeks.
     

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