1. Bryman
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    Bryman Member

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    How do you go about the name choosing process?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Bryman, Jul 3, 2012.

    Anytime I start a story, the big thing that blocks me from starting is names. I feel like the characters all need to have a name for their specific image. Not cliche like an unattractive woman named Olga or a strong guy named Lance, but names that sound right for the character.

    To put it simply, I am horrible with choosing names. I'll scour the internet's name websites and baby name archives. I'll go through yearbooks and name generation sites, but never find a good name. I am in this situation again and need a little help. So I was wondering how some people here choose their character's names and the process behind it.
     
  2. EstherAnn
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    EstherAnn New Member

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    I usually write a character outline first and get to know the character. If I still don't know I start writing the story using any old name, until one shouts out to me. It usually fits the person that way.
     
  3. FirstTimeNovelist91
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    FirstTimeNovelist91 Senior Member

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    This is right up my alley.

    Names inspire me. I look for names that have a rich history behind them. If there is a person that is strongly associated with a name, I typically avoid it, less the person is dead or evil (I would not refrain from naming an evil character Adolf). Also, sometimes it is good to look for the meaning behind the name and what you character represents. Is your character a strong, bossy leader? A lion? Leo may be the name for you. Is your character flighty? Alice in Wonderland comes to mind.

    You see what I mean?
     
  4. KRHolbrook
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    KRHolbrook Member

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    With my antagonist, Rick Balder, I came up with his name out of nowhere, and I'm not going to say that it "fits" him, but it works. No, he's not bald, but that doesn't matter, because people with the last name Rich aren't all rich. Sometimes a name doesn't always have to match a character's specific looks or personality. I actually have a relative whose name is Rick and he's nothing like this guy (at least I hope not...).

    But something you might want to look into is why the parents would give their child a certain name. Maybe their first name is from someone famous, or their first name is from a past relative that meant a lot to one of the parents. Maybe the parents want this child to be the next huge soccer player, so they name the child after a famous soccer player. Depends on the people, sometimes.

    Raiven and Lily Candrid were named because the mom (raped) had Raiven first, and the girl had dark eyes and the darker skin tone of the man, plus a small bit of black hair. After Raiven's mom fell in love with a guy, she had Lily, who was the light of her life with bright blue eyes and pale skin, blonde hair.

    Just different views from the family.

    Think of the times as well as the setting, that'll also help out (unless it's a self-created world).

    There's nothing wrong with scouring names in the phonebook, or online and such. I've done that tons of times, myself.

    Hope this helps a little. :)
     
  5. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Usually the names just come to me while I'm writing, although I will occasionally change a name later on. I don't know of any big tricks other than what you already mentioned -- looking up baby names from various decades and such. I might also do searches for particular types of names -- I've done google searches for "Jewish names" or "Jewish surnames" when coming up with names for characters, many of whom are Jewish. I also look up names popular in or around the year a particular character was born.

    Also, if I come up with a name for a character (first name and last name) I google that to make sure I haven't inadvertently thought of a name of someone who is or was famous or notorious or somehow otherwise well-known.

    I find that, as is usually the case with actual people, often the characters 'grow into' their names and the name suits them. I actually don't think that there really needs to be a huge amount of analysis put into the name of characters. It's the personality and nuances of the character that people care about more than the actual name.
     
  6. Bryman
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    Bryman Member

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    Thanks everyone, the variety of answers was a lot of help! Especially Chicagoliz, it does seem better to let a character sort of grow into a name but I would still rather have a name that seems to fit their personality without being to cliche. Also, KRH you would have been a better help, but it seems your method of choosing names is for a more realistic world, while mine are almost always fantasy.

    Either way, thanks all. You were lots of help!
     
  7. KRHolbrook
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    KRHolbrook Member

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    Bryman,

    I wondered if you were speaking along the lines of fantasy or not. While the methods of choosing a name from a famous person may not work at all, I still say you could get away with the parents choosing their name for a specific reason. I used to write contemporary fantasy (I think it's what it's called; I created my own world with my own creatures), but switched to urban fantasy. I get to stay in the real world, but still have my made-up creatures at times.

    But it is sometimes better to have a random name and just write, then once you see the character within the novel and get to learn more about them, you can find a name that best fits them and change it to that. :)
     
  8. Steph4136
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    Steph4136 Senior Member

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    Sometimes I really struggle to come up with names for my characters too. I keep an ongoing list of first and last names, broken down to male and female, in a couple of documents. That way I can just pull them up and pick and choose what works for that particular character. I'm always adding to the lists too, when I see a unique name that's not too off the wall, or when I think of randomly during the day. This is when keeping a notebook in my purse comes in handy.
     
  9. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    There are websites that are for parents trying to find names for their newborns. With those websites they also show the meaning and origin of the names. I still have small journal of names, meanings and origins that I keep as a reference to when I write new stories. I choose the ones that I like and ones that I feel fit a certain characteristic.
     
  10. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can give your character any name they please. They'll grow to fit it.

    That's how connotations with names in real life come about - it isn't the name that's given to a person that defines them (how can it be?), it is the person that we come to associate with the name. So don't worry too much about what your characters are called - it's their characterisation, not their name, that matters.
     
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  11. lasm
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    lasm Member

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    Often I just make up a place-holder name and use it until either something else comes to me, or I've gotten so used to the place-holder that it becomes the name.

    Some names really do just come to me. I have a character whose name is Farley, a name I don't particularly love or have a reason to use, but when I said to myself, "What's his name?" the answer came instantly and that was it. So he's Farley. Luckily he goes by a nickname most of the time.

    Sometimes I take parts of names from characters in other works, alter them a bit or combine them with something else, because I want to make a connection between my character and others. So for example (I'm making this one up now), I might name a character after the kid in the Neverending Story to show that he's that type of person, sort of an adventurous dreamer, and then I might give him the last name of the MC of Sentimental Education to show he's not acting on his dreams. So he'd be Sebastian Moreau. Since I'm using a first-person narrator, I feel like names are one of the few ways that I as author get to send a message to the reader and give an idea of what I think about characters, rather than what Narrator guy thinks. I try not to make this too glaring - my thought is that, if the reader wants to think about the name, there could be some reward in it, but I don't want the reader to be forced to think about it either.
     
  12. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    For characters I want readers to really like, I give names I've always really liked. For the rest, I grab the phone book, a book of baby names, or (as suggested by a friend of mine) spam emails - random first names coupled with random surnames, then a bit of judicious switching and adjusting so I don't end up with Gaylord Garfunkel...
     
  13. Darkkin
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    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

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    I look to nature, to history and literature. Most of the time, I know my character's name before I really know them. Their names are the foundation tenet point from which I build. I don't like the name. I don't like the character. I won't like the story. My character's name is the one concrete thing about them, everything else is fluid, living, but the name is the base. Slightly backward, I know, but with my writing style it works. On the rare occasion I have an issue, I ask for opinions and ideas.

    - Darkkin
     
  14. Hettyblue
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    Hettyblue Member

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    This is an issue for me at the moment as the names I am using in an what will probably be an urban fantasy novel are all very ordinary - when I read urban fantasy I do get rather tired of the prediliction for macho made up character driven names 'Wrath', 'Tore' etc. I prefer that the names are appropriate to the setting but not distracting (or impossible to work out how to pronounce!).

    Still being set in Britain rather than the US means my names will probably seem rather dull (though I have found some nice celtic names to add to the mix), but hopefully not irritating.

    It is hard but you can also change them if you think they don't work for the character.
     
  15. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I love baby name books - when I was 12 and really started to get into writing I bought - Beyond Jennifer and Jason a cool unique baby name book that put the names into lists under headings like sexy or macho , showing that names just aren't about meanings but impressions.
    Using this philosophy, I pick names not just for their meanings but for how they look , sound , and what people may judge about them based on their name.

    I'm a bit of a name freak - I love making up names or turning ordinary words into names. I once named one of my characters Quay.

    As for deciding on a name sometimes this is an easy decision , sometimes it's hard. Usually, I make a small list of options - never more than ten and start to try them on the character. writing a small scene with a few of the names to see how they'll look. I never pick names I don't like, and will occasionally break the rules - like taking a name that isn't percieved as sexy but give it to a sexy character, anyway - this can add a nice demention as he ,now, becomes something unexpected.
    For vintage names I scour movies and take characters names from some of the glamorous actresses and actors, old birth announcements in newspapers at the library are fun and bio's that have references at the back are good.

    I have fun with it - it's a little like picking a name for a baby! Your baby.

    But you should never approach it as though you're character must have an immortalizing name - that's too much pressure! Lolita was nearly called Juanita and Scarlett O'Hara had been called Pansy in early drafts.
    Plus Jane Eyre has the plainest name but is one of the most enduring heroines, ever.
    Names are important but I never overthink it - the right name usually comes to my character wether it's right off the bat or halfway through the first draft!
     
  16. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    Unless I am making a mistake like naming a Russian guy Carlos (in which case I'll explain why he is named that way and use it for plot/character development), I am not so hung up about the names of the characters. I just give them names which come to me at that moment and try to start writing the story as soon as I can. But as the story progresses and I developed the character the random name that i picked slowly becomes an identity, complete with physical features, behavior, history, just like a person I have known for ages. A person's name may sound weird to hear for the first time, but when you get to know him well his name doesn't sound so weird, it just doesn't matter anymore. So, if you develop her well, Olga could be the most beautiful girl to the readers.
     
  17. Lady Amalthea
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    Lady Amalthea Member

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    Hey, my name's Olga! Didn't know it was "cliché" for an ugly woman to be called that. Arrr! :mad:

    I like to look at history, mythologies, religion, and literature. Sometimes, like others here, I look at baby name lists. I usually go with simple names like Anne and Cid. But there have been some exceptions. I had Amneris, Asiyah and Theophrastus (though they were in a fantasy setting). I think if you're writing fantasy or sci-fi you can go crazier with the names, but if it's more "realistic" fiction the names are usually toned down.

    For comedic purposes, I like using anagrams. I wrote a fanfic where I put an original character named Davon Jaanos Caun (which reads Don Juan Casanova), and of course he was the villain and the seducer. I am writing a story that has an opera theater as setting, and I am having a blast naming my composers: Zerlibo, Gerdi, Wolfie Zomart, Wicherd Ragnar...

    I always enjoy chosing the last name. After looking at last names from different languages, we can see a sort of pattern: families are named after fruits, trees, places, professions and religious symbols; less commonly, they can also be named after a color, or a physical/psychological attribute. You can do that in several different languages, depending on the character's origin. Of course I'm talking about western cultures. I really wouldn't know how to go about naming an eastern character. Would look for an original name from his country, probably. The point is that, depending on where the character comes from, I can chose something that fits them, sometimes even something that has to do with their story.
     
  18. BFGuru
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    BFGuru Active Member

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    I look to the character's parents. After all, their parentage defines their character. What names would have been important to them? Would they simply not care and give them plain names or be all fancy and make up the names of their children? I have two sisters names after local deities in my current WIP. Mom was rather devout to the pagan faith LOL.
     
  19. noodlepower
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    noodlepower Member

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    First, after getting my character's personalities down, I go through lists until I find something that I think works. Sometimes, I find it harder to name certain characters. No matter how many baby naming books or archives I go through, I find that its really hard to pick out a good name for the character. When that happens, I turn to my local newspaper's obituaries.
     
  20. Darkkin
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    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

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    I've walked through old cemeteries on more than one occasion writing names down. Some of them around my area date back to the early 1800's. Not the oldest in the world, but well established and steeped in history. That is how Bella came to have her sister Maggie.

    - Darkkin
     
  21. Patrick Gallant
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    Patrick Gallant Member

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    Hey Bryman and everyone,

    Everyone has a thousand ways to run through names, and none of them are wrong of course. There is always the planned approach, such as listed above: baby names books, phone books, and even other intellectual property (so long as you`re taking the name and not the actual character). As my method of character creation typically has little focus on the name, often that comes to me as a bunch of syllables or even a last minute idea, though every name I find fits in the long run. You will always associate creativity with the name, and naming your badass `Sparklestar`will make it hard for you and your audience to be truly in awe of their antagonistic ways.

    One thing that I haven`t seen mention that I`ve had occasion to do is placeholder names. Sometimes you really don`t know what to call them but the idea is burning hot and you want to right it down. Create a standardized roster for yourself to pop in just to keep the ebb and flow going. If you know it`s not going to stick for the final draft, naming your hero something opaque and lacking in creativity will really help. I use stock names like Lord Sandwich and even my own name, because I`m a real enemy of author insertion into IP, so it guarantees I won`t take that name seriously when their actual name comes to me. I once went from Lord Sandwich, Devourer of Words to something more nameless and majestic like The Seventh Harbinger, Greivance. Not a prime example, but the point is, Lord Sandwich the Seventh Harbinger would only work in a spoof or parody, and thus the place name did not make me shape the character around it. In some stories names are not symbolic, they`re just names.

    Fantasy names can be the hardest, maybe next to alien names, because we know that letters used to work a bit differently in ye olde Dragontown. I often like approaching it by the syllables. Sound out the name until it works; maybe you want it to start with an N. You could try Ne, then ri, then tu, and come up with something like that. Or if you don`t think the -tu fits, to Ne-Ri-Na. Keep swapping out common sounds and syllables till you end up with Zystis the Dark Knight or the Oracle Coperna. It`s a harder method if you`re already stalling on the first letters, but the first time you think of doing Ad-do-de-di you`ll start to understand how the process works.

    If you need any other advice, feel free to ask. I ran a names workshop once, and there are some more obscure methods or some more details that I perhaps can give, but these are the things that I thought might be most useful.

    Regards,

    Torian
     
  22. Samo
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    Samo Member

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    Call 'em all Samo.

    My hangup - I usually steal from superior work. Something like eating a cheetah heart to gain its speed.

    Sepp from Biedermann und die Brandstifter is one I've half inched for my own story
     
  23. NeedMoreRage
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    Lists of names and a little discretion. Sometimes I'll use programs to add a little chance into it. I don't bother with having names that have a deep meaning behind them. Sometimes I use some reasoning to pick names for a character, such as the names of other family members. But that's about as much thought as I put into it. If it sounds good, can be pronounced, and makes a bit of sense, then it's a good name.
     
  24. nephlm
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    nephlm Member

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    So I actually use census data. Obviously only useful when writing in a United State parallel. What it gives me that most other sources don't (besides _all_ the names) is the commonness of the names. For a regular Joe, I look for something in the first hundred or so names. For my special unique snowflake I may skip the first 500 or so names. Then I just start reading until something sounds right. Go to the surname data file and do the same.
     
  25. noodlepower
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    That's an interesting idea and one I might actually use myself. I imagine that reading a few inscriptions on tombstones might actually inspire some pretty interesting characters as well.
     

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