1. Nicolle Evans
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    Nicolle Evans Member

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    How do you know that your character name is right?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Nicolle Evans, May 3, 2016.

    I had a name for my character which I stuck with and wrote a whole 1st draft with that name until I got to a particular scene and I thought, "Actually this name doesn't work."

    I then changed the name and since then have used that name but I'm beginning to wonder whether that name is right or not?

    How do you know when the name is right, or when to stop with the characters' names?
     
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  2. NiallRoach
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    NiallRoach Contributing Member

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    I literally chose the first two generic names to come to mind, Hannah and Jack, and never thought about their names again.
     
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  3. newjerseyrunner
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    newjerseyrunner Contributing Member

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    I tend to make my character's names around who the character is based off of. Got a physicist and astronomer? Richard Sagan. (Feynman and Carl) Then I tend to leave it alone unless I also radically redesign the character.
     
  4. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    After naming a character, I close my eyes and visualize what that character looks like. If the vision matches what's needed for the plot, I stick with the name. If not, I keep changing it until it does.
     
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  5. LostThePlot
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    LostThePlot Contributing Member

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    I'm on board with this kind of naming. People don't get to pick their names. Names get dropped on people often decided even before they are born. There is no such thing as a name that fits. There's just names. But... A name isn't necessarily what a person is actually called. What you call a person is the important part. When a character has a normal, boring name that gives us the space to see them react to it by seeing what they want to be called and what people actually call them.

    If you have just a normal name when you aren't sure who you are or have a feeling that maybe you're more than just a boring, bland drone, well you rile against that. You try to be called something else even without changing their name. You don't want to be defined by something your parents dropped on you without knowing you. Characters like this will do things like trying to put their own stamp on themselves by picking a less common (or even made up) diminutive form, by using a derived nickname or using their surname instead. They'll want a name of their choosing. But not everyone is going to call them it and that'll rankle them. The name that this character gets called will tell a lot about the relationship they have with the person calling them it. It lets you subtly tell the difference between being comforted by a close friend and a random colleague. An actual friend knows to call you by the name you chose, someone else will just pick the most common diminutive; trying to sound nice and friendly but still calling you the wrong name.

    Every character I write is seriously unhappy with who they are so I do this fairly often but I stand by using normal, everyday names for characters and letting the character try to redefine it for themselves rather than trying to find a 'dynamic' name that they conveniently were called before anyone knew they'd be sexy, dynamic people. This kind of story telling is never something you need to call attention to, you just leave it there and let the reader soak it in and pick up little cues about what is going on.

    In the book I'm currently editing the main character is a teenage girl who's name is Elizabeth but that's certainly not what she's called. When she was little she was Lizzie but when she started secondary school she jumped to Beth because it's rather cooler and more grown up. At school most people have only known her as Beth so they call her that, but her friends from earlier went along with it too. Her arch-nemesis derisively calls her Lizzie though, not because she ever knew Beth by that name, simply because it's mean to call her by a babyish name. Her mum calls her Lizzie too though; she's a busy, working, single mum working two jobs to pay the mortgage and so she just kinda missed it when Beth started to change her name; she's not around enough to hear other people call her it so Lizzie she stays. Beth's dad on the other hand calls her princess or jellybean. Her name is boring. What she gets called has a lot going on.

    It's the same in my other works. Ellie is a teenage boy who grew up in a cult never knowing that Ellie is actually a girls name. That's just what he's always been called, an affectionate diminutive of Elijah that his adoptive mother calls him. That he's still Ellie at 16 tells us that he hasn't really grown up, not confident enough to stand on his own two feet; still very much a baby and dependent on his mummy. On the other side of that Ellie has always called his 'mother' Judith forgetting that she lived most of her life outside the church and it's very alien to him to see her parents call her Judy. In fact, he's the only person who really called her Judith at all, not even her friends in the church called her that once they knew her. And yet Ellie and Judith become something much more than the names might make them sound because we care about them.

    The names aren't (and don't need to be) interesting by themselves, nor do they need to fit the character. They just need to feel like they are the names of real people and that includes being mutable and being an expression of how people feel about each other and themselves. The what truly doesn't matter; it's the why that'll get us invested and make us want to see a name as being more than just letters on the page. If we're invested then that name will fit, it'll take on the connotations of the character. A dynamic sexy character will make Joe Bloggs feel just as dynamic and sexy as Gemini Thrust.
     
    Last edited: May 4, 2016
  6. KhalieLa
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    KhalieLa It's not a lie, it's fiction. Contributor

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    I wrote two books of a trilogy with a name that "doesn't work."
    I asked the character his name, he told me, it sounded great and I liked it. But it's been nagging at me because when I wrote it down it didn't look right on the page. I'm changing it to bring it inline with his ethnicity. Thankfully, all I have to do is drop a silent h.

    Unless there is something "off" I don't see a reason to change a name. By the same token, there's no reason not to change a name. You can do whatever you want until it's published. Once that happens you're stuck with whatever name you've got.
     
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  7. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    I disagree that names don't matter. Sure, people don't get to choose their names. But I've noticed that more often than not, people either fit their name or are the complete opposite. For example: I've met several girls with typically sweet or innocent names (Hope, Faith, Charity) that are all cruel, mean people. I've also met people with very unique names that are very unique people. Besides, if you look at research, men with common names (Matt, John) are more likely to succeed in life than those without. Some speculate this is because of stereotyping. These common names are more likely to be chosen for interviews, so they are given more opportunity. But the study is still there. Also, GingerCoffee once posted a thread asking for a bitchy girl name. Nearly every single people said Brittney (or some spelling of such), because everyone knew a bitchy girl named Brittney. I know three Brittneys and they're all mean girls.

    So my theory is, if the name doesn't feel right, it's not. And I keep looking until I find the right one. My MC Seren went through dozens of names before I settled on one. She was Elynor, Ellyn, Eilith, Eilinora, and many more before she was finally Seren. It's short for Serenity, and she is far from serene. But Seren is her. That's her name, and it's as if I didn't even choose it for her. It's just what it is.
     
  8. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If you look at the history of literature, from classics to modern literature, you can find many examples of names that are significant in the context of the story. You're not only telling a story, but creating an artistic work. If you want to choose a name that has symbolism or meaning, then certainly you should do that. If you want to choose names that carry with them certain connotations, then you should do that as well. If you prefer just using common names that have no special meaning in and of themselves, that's also fine. It's just a matter of what you're trying to do with your work.
     
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  9. Anna100
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    Anna100 Member

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    I can't remember ever changing a name when I first have settled on it. And it's not something I think about a lot when I'm writing(whether it fits or not). I don't know, they just stick. :p But I don't see the problem with changing it if it doesn't feel right. It's part of the process too.
     
  10. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    at some point the name just sticks, you know?

    The funniest is actually my daughter's name. My husband picked the name and I agreed with it, even though it didn't really "connect" with me - but it's a nice name with a good meaning, and hubby loved it so I went with it. We then agreed our little girl will get a Chinese middle name - for this we enlisted the help of my parents, who gave us a few choices and we chose from the list. And the moment I saw the name, I knew I liked it. I only refer to my daughter by her first, English name to friends because that's the name I introduce her with, but I never call her by that name. To me, it's the Chinese name that's her name. It just fits.
     
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  11. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    I hate to sound trite but I think it is right when it feels right.
    I created a character, Annie Marconi, without having her name first. Now that I think about it I typically name most of my characters after they have been created in my mind. Anyway, I pondered many names and wrote down several I thought were more 'creative' but I kept thinking of her as 'Annie' even though I didn't particularly like the name itself (the surname came later). As I wrote the book Annie grew into her name and now I wouldn't have her called anything else. It just felt right from the get-go and still holds up now.
     
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  12. Seraph751
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    Seraph751 If I fell down the rabbit hole...

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    For me their names represent a piece of who they are, or are an inspiration point for them. :) I am pretty literal this way lol.
     
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  13. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    I tend to think that like anything that might change in revision, a name might never be 'right'. You'll always be able to go through an ms and change little things to make it work just a little better, but you have to decide at some point that it's good enough and stop picking at it. Sometimes letting it settle is all you need for it to feel normal.
     
  14. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    I actually started my first novel only having one official name. Not until around page 51 did I get Marckus a name. And not until page 203 did the Mother Confessor got her name Corlixia. So it takes awhile, but I think it worked out not having a name for so long for either of them. But I was just not sure what to call them for a while, and Steve is not the fix all for the characters you have yet named. That would be freaking insanity. "Steve?" "Yes, Steve?' See it would be bloody chaos. :D Sometimes you just have to let them find themselves through writing them, not all characters need a name right out of the gate. Not that a name will make them more or less that what they already are, but letting them find their own is pretty nice. :p Graxis just felt right, and I am thoroughly surprised that his name doesn't already exist. Though I won't spoil his first name, but it starts with a B in case you want to try and guess it. :p

    funny-memes80.jpg In short it kinda goes like this. :superlaugh:
     
  15. zoupskim
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    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

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    I make sure the name isn't too unique, so it the reader doesn't stumble over it every time. Sometime the names have meaning, especially nicknames, but often I just make sure they fit the setting. No Asian names for celts, etc.
     
  16. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I've changed a character's name twice in my WIP and I'm still not sure it's quite right. She's horrible, so at the moment she's named after the arch nemesis of one of my beta readers--just to make her smile. It might get changed again.

    When I choose a name there are a few practical considerations: I noticed I have a habit of giving characters the same initials, which doesn't help readers remember them. But once those are dealt with a name just feels right or it doesn't.
     
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  17. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    @Tenderiser So you are like Stan Lee, and use the same initials for characters? Interesting. :)
     
  18. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Not intentionally, and once I realised I changed some names and now try to avoid doing it. I just really like names that begin with certain letters, particularly A, C and J. No idea why!
     
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  19. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    It's all good. We all have our quirks about names. I have a character Zlada Volkov whose nick name Red Wolf, coincidentally Volkov is wolf in Russian. :p
     
  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    The names of my main characters just came to me easily, although I had to do a bit of work to come up with the minor characters' ones. However, the biggest worry is coming up with names that won't get confusing to read. I'm not sure I succeeded with that, but because two of my characters are twins I wanted their names to be similar. And their names are foreign as well, at least in the prologue. (They revert to English names after the prologue.) It was hard to get that balance right, and I'm still not positive I succeeded. However, it's not something my betas have mentioned much, so I think I'll keep them.
     
  21. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Here is my naming process:
    1) choose the first name that pops into my head
    2) write book
    3) the names are terrible
    4) change them

    Thank GOD for find and replace. How people wrote novels by hand is something that is beyond my understanding. Much respect for those intrepid souls.
     
  22. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    That's also a great way to procrastinate when you keep each chapter in a separate file like I do. Don't want to write but feel guilty about not writing? Change a character's name!
     
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  23. DeadMoon
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    DeadMoon Contributing Member Contributor

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    The main name I am using came from the days of role playing games. The rest were randomly generated and then mixed and matched.
     
  24. DoctorDoom
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    DoctorDoom Member

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    I think it depends on the character and the story. Since I write sci-fi, I usually just make something up or scroll through a list of ethnic baby names, find several that fit and derive something from them.

    (Mave, Destre, Jengo, Flula, Jillian, Maud, Malvin, Adira, Tessa, Nigel, Yella, Avola, Phiede, Riraro, Varset, Scre, Izze, Clairan, Sveth, Quilitien, Taba.)

    Other times, usually if they're the MC, I'll find something that is derived from a word (in any language) that describes the character. Exo means outside in greek, and Exo the character is an asexual alien whose behavior is extremely bizarre, to the point that it would normally be sent straight to the insane asylum if it wasn't also extremely intelligent and useful to the government. (and a bonafide Houdini and MacGyver when it actually remembers such things.)

    Most of the time however, I just use characters name to make bad puns, eg. Mark, who is all of the following:

    (followed by a numeral) a particular model or type of a vehicle, machine, or device. -there are multiple Marks in the story because of teleportation-
    A line, figure, or symbol made as an indication or record of something. -Mark 136 is at one point a biological flashdrive.
    A target. -This happens quite frequently.
    A person who is easily deceived or taken advantage of. -The reason he is any of the above or below to begin with.
    The means of putting a line by or through something written or printed on paper to indicate that it has passed or been dealt with. -Mark is a hitman. His boss makes this pun frequently.
    A means of showing the position of something or someone.
    (of a player in a team game) stay close to (a particular opponent) in order to prevent them getting or passing the ball.
    Essentially, any way you can use the mark 'Mark', I mark Mark's mark.

    Mark my words, Mark is a mark in every sense of the word.

    Other times I'm just bored and think saffron is a weird word and decide to name my villain after it, thus Zalphar.

    Other times It'll just pop into my head because of something I was reading and I'll go with it. Why not name a serial killer Agatha? It's not a normal sounding name and it's already associated with murder because of Agatha Christie. So, why not?

    Then I'll look it up and discover that Agatha is derived from ancient Greek and means 'good' and that it was the name of a third-century Christian martyr, St. Agatha of Sicily. And given the nature of the character and the book she's in, it's not only extremely ironic, it's also extremely fitting.

    As for when you know you have the correct name for a character, it's just a matter of whether or not that name brings to mind who that character is and becomes synonymous with them. Take Sherlock for example. You get a very distinct mental image when you hear the name. You know exactly who I'm talking about. How you get to that point really doesn't matter.
     
  25. Shattered Shields
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    Shattered Shields Gratsa!

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    For me, the name has to fit the character themselves. I don't know how to explain my strange writing processes more coherently than that. It just has to fit, it has to work.

    Ultimately, it's up to you.
     

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