1. henmatth
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    henmatth Member

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    Names With Meaning

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by henmatth, Feb 3, 2013.

    As an Autor, I feel it's my duty to name my characters in a way that not only describes their personality- but sets them in a place where they can truly be defined by their title. Out of every book I've wrote, I can honestly say that each of my characters' names have a meaning behind them. Most are named with root words or folkloric meaning. For instance, a character in one of my books was an avid Christian. I, myself, am not Christian- but I wanted the character to have a religious name. With that being said I wanted a name that would define him. So I didn't just pick any name from the Bible. Rather I did my research, ultimately choosing 'Joseph', which to many Christians means 'helper', 'loyal follower', and 'husband'- all of which fully described my character. In a different story I named a child 'Dawn'- meaning a new beginning. It related to the story in the fact that when she was born things in the family's life began to turn in a different direction. Do you research your names and try to have meaning behind your character's titles? If so, what techniques do you use to find 'the right' name?
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't research names. I feel like the name is right when it conjures the right image, the right character, for me. I picture the character, and pretty soon his name pops into my head. No research involved, no symbolism intended.
     
  3. popsprocket
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    popsprocket Member

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    I avoid naming characters based on the meaning of a name. It feels conceited.
     
  4. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    I agree, but you must admit that a character like "Dove-Tonsils the world famous mercenary" might not work in a story with an apocalyptic backdrop.

    In that regard, what's the alternative?
     
  5. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I cringe whenever I read a book and pick up on the fact a writer has picked a name based on it's meaning (even more so if the writer feels the need to point it out). It's typical and overdone.

    I name my characters whatever I think suits them. If he looks like a Ken in my head then I'll call him Ken. I also try to stick with traditional spellings - but that's just a jab at my parents for giving me a name that is often misspelled. ;)
     
  6. NellaFantasia
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    NellaFantasia Member

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    For me, the perfect name comes when it sounds like my character. Or when I'm being lazy and write down the first name that pops in my head, but the name sticks. As long as it fits the culture my character lives in, I generally don't worry about it.
     
  7. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    Don't research names unless you expect your readership to be the kind of people who look up the meanings of names when trying to derive character aspects (no-one).

    I name my characters based on either references to common knowledge or just on how they sound. This is, of course subject to cultural differences, but you should be aware of certain characteristics when you say certain names.

    William, Catherine and Alexander have gravitas.
    Kenny, Kyle and Wendy sound casual and "younger"
    Candy, Coco and Honey Boo Boo Child... well...

    Maybe look into phonetics and piece names together like that? Take a look at George R.R. Martin's stuff: I'm sure I've never heard half the names he's used anywhere else before.

    Arya? Tyrion? Tywin? They're not obvious enough that you can guess a character's personality on sound alone, but they definitely not inappropriate.
     
  8. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    I have a name book that i bought years ago and it lists the meaning for each name in the book and sometimes i will chose a character name based on its meaning, BUT i don't always do that.
     
  9. nhope
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    nhope Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I use a baby names book which gives the meaning and time period when it was popular. I like names that aren't heard of often, like Isabel and Lucas. I've noticed my main characters names are more unusual and my secondaries are more common.
     
  10. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    I don't research names, I just pick one off the top of my head based on what sort of names my character's parents would have chosen.

    My parents almost named me Grace; I wonder if I'd be as clumsy as I am now if they'd gone ahead with that :p
     
  11. Asaph Judea Wagner
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    Asaph Judea Wagner Member

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    Joseph, a Hebrew name in origin, means Added by god, while my name, Asaph, means, Gathered by god. If you want a biblical name, You can PM for what meaning you are looking for.

    If it is an imaginary world, I use whatever word, in your case even, Guardian or Aid will do.
    Sometimes, if not necessary I give them a nickname and not a real name and never reveal it (like the wife in Kill Bill or the postal dude).
    If you absolutely have to find something meaningful, you can go insane with and pick anything that just sound similar. In the movie, the Fifth Element, the protagonist is named Korben because it is similar to the Hebrew word for victim. Conan the Barbarian was named Conan because Howard wanted an Irish name, could have been any other that sounded good.
     
  12. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think someone needs to check the 'most popular baby names' lists over the past couple of years. :p Lucas especially is hitting the top 5-10 in countries in at least three continents at the moment.
     
  13. Amin
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    Amin Member

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    For me, it depends on the story. I tend to write medieval fantasy and futuristic science-fiction, so research into my names is either required or fitting. Sometimes I just pick a name I like and that suits my character in my mind or I'll use either one of my names dictionaries or behindthename which is a website full of different categories of names with meaning and origin.
    Personally, I find it more enjoyable to read symbolic names, like J.K. Rowling does. It's not realistic, but it fits the atmosphere of the fantastical. I also find it clever when a name has deep/hidden meanings.
    I have a fascination with names in general, so it provides me with endless fun. I am someone who would go and look up a name if I thought it has meaning.

    And henmath, I couldn't help but notice:
     
  14. popsprocket
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    popsprocket Member

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    :D I really need to find somewhere to use that name!

    I see the point, but you can still name a character accordingly without picking a name with a specific meaning. For instance, Dove-Tonsils doesn't have to be renamed by going onto a baby name website and looking up names with the meaning 'vicious killer'. I could just call him Jack instead.
     
  15. PenTrotter
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    PenTrotter Member

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    I name my characters whatever they 'look like', and if they dont look like anything, I take a foreign word that describes them, change it up so it cant e recognized but only as a name, then wahlah, I have a name
     
  16. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I have meaning behind names in a subtle way. I don't explain them but if someone cares to research they'll find it. They are relevant to the characters and their actions.
    I have Zoia which means Life, Caleb = Dog, Dan = he judged, My MC Mykhaila (Michael) = who is like God? (the leader of Heaven's armies), Jack (John, Yochanan) = God is gracious (kind of), Zac (zachariah) = God remembers (kind of).
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Not a fan of "meaningful names." Yes, Dickens loved to use such names. So did Washington Irving, and so have many others.

    There are cultures, mostly in the past, who only give an adult name when the child is graduating out of youth, and has shown his or her true nature. If you are writing such a culture, it makes sense. And some names will steer a person's existence. If you name your daughter Mildred Frump, even marrying young won't help her crawl out from under an umbrella of mediocrity. Good lord, at least give her a first name that won't make her sit at a corner table with Milton Sodemayer throughout school.

    Most names are given at birth, before a child has had a chance to develop a personality. And most names don't predestine a child to failure or to greatness. If anything, kids will struggle against a name's stereotype.

    So when I choose names, I try to keep them neutral. I don't insult a reader's intelligence by putting a twenty-foot neon sign over the antagonist, saying "Snidely Whiplash: The Villain" (unless it is a comedy piece to begin with). I use ordinary names, or whatever feels to me like an ordinary name for an alien or far future culture.

    I prefer any foreshadowing to be localized, not carried by a character throughout the story like an indelible tat.
     
  18. Solitude
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    Solitude Member

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    I don't do meaningful names. I pick the names based off what 'feels' right rather than contemplate what fits their personality the best. Giving characters a 'meaningful' name seems like it'd force the author to either make them live up to the name or actively oppose its meaning.
     
  19. Roxie
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    Roxie Active Member

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    I am not one to over think my character names, so no, I don't research them, I don't look for meaning in them either (not as a reader or a writer) I just go with what feels right. The day I start over thinking, the little things, will mean that I no longer trust my instincts and feelings. I hope that day never comes. If for you, it's important to research and balance the name with the character traits, than I say keep doing what feels right to you!
     
  20. seije
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    seije Member

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    my only issue with symbolic names is that, unless the entire story is a metaphor, it seems a bit unrealistic that someone just so happens to fit their name perfectly. People are named (for the most part) at the very beginning of their lives. characters that fit their name perfectly seems like too much of a coincidence, or even a bit cliche. I would actually find it more interesting if someone's name meant something opposite of their characterization.
     
  21. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    I tent to pick names that were popular in whatever particular era I'm writing about.
     
  22. Matt Z
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    Matt Z New Member

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    I don't think names really matter that much. We don't become the people that we are or gain the personalities that we do because of our names in real life, people just work with the name their given.
     
  23. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    So some people don't like to put symbolism in their work. No need to dismiss those who do.
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No one dismissed anyone for liking symbolism. Some of us expressed a preference for leaving symbolism out of most names, but no one said anything negative about those who choose otherwise.

    No need to make it personal at all.
     
  25. Malkhalifa
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    Malkhalifa Member

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    Sometimes I have just a surname or first name. I take what I have and I play with baby naming sites and family name sites until something fits. If the character derives from fantasy, I play around with sounds and syllables until something clicks.
     

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