1. dave_c
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    dave_c Active Member

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    naming a character

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by dave_c, Oct 15, 2010.

    in the process of writing a short fantasy novel i came up with a few names.

    my hero was called Agaue - pronounced - Ag-ow - he is a huge giant like man with solid muscle, ex military high commander, typical hard nut.
    and a kind of sub hero was called Pagn - Pa-gun - a small girl with dark skin, red tinted eyes and the unknown ability to control the undead.

    problem is after a little research/thought Agaue is apparently a woman's name pronounced ag-a-way and Pagn is the Philadelphia Anti-graffiti network

    iv gone through a few names and have finally got to the point where i bought some baby name books.

    Just wondering how do you come up with the name of your characters, do you research the names before you finalize?
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have always loved names so for me names come fairly easy. Their meanings and the magic that names are embued with in some cultures is fascinating. I put a huge amount of thought into my childrens names lol For my characters I use behindthename I don't know if it still is, but used to be regarded as the most reliable for meanings on the web and better than a baby name book. I use their random renamer, select the culture I want and keep clicking until I find one with a look I like and meaning that suits my character.

    My fantasy novel has mostly normal names in the main culture (Tom, Matt, Angus, Socrates, Jack, Damocles, Michaelangelo, Lorenzo, Evelyn, Beatrice, Elizabeth, Alexander etc) - I created a reason for the use of 'Earth' names. I have some names from other cultures for different races like Shun, Bai, Chan, Sothy, Tola, Pich, Vibol etc

    EDIT: If you can get it a copy of First Names First by Leslie Alan Dunkling is a great read and charts popularity of names etc it is very old book now though.
     
  3. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    Always worth running names through google before you do anything. I accidentally called one of my main characters after a kind of hagfish, because it has a surprisingly nice-sounding name. I watch a lot of nature documentaries, and I clearly just didn't make the link when I was thinking, "that's a name!" and "I should call my character that!" I have a massive name dictionary I've also been annotating and adding more names to as I go, and I couldn't find it in there, much to my confusion, so eventually I remembered to google it ... all was not lost, though. She mostly used a shortened nickname version, so I just made up a new name with the nickname included, and then had one of my envionmental biologist characters (who very handily happened to be in the scene where she was explaining her name*) comment, "surely it's not short for..." to giggles from the one other person in the room who was a marine biologist, leaving the reader to go look it up if they care, and a lampshade hung on my stupid mistake. :p

    Mostly I use the name dictionary first, even if I'm coming up with fantasy names, since it has many unusual/non-English names in it, and if nothing else, it can get me thinking in patterns of syllables that sound good together.


    * actually not so much of a surprise since I'm such a nerd for animals, and therefore usually have a character around who knows more than average numbers of facts about them. :p
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    names either just come to me, or i get out the phone book... can't recall ever needing to 'research' a name...

    main thing is to not use any with weird spellings, that readers won't be able to pronounce... or pronounce the way you want them to...
     
  5. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    For names I got one simple rule:

    You should be able to scream it. Really scream it. And it it can't be done that character will have some sort of nick name or shorter form of of their name.

    Because whatever the culture is friends, families, teachers etc will have been screaming that persons name. In play, to be heard over a distance or a load noice, in anger, in fear, for a myriad of reasons.

    ---

    When making up fantasy names I look for name structures I can use. Like "Most usually two syllables names, one of the syllables stressed usually the first one. Most common vowels are... class/sex often indicated by..." or "sort of Philippine sounding names"
     
  6. MissPomegranate
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    MissPomegranate Member

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    Sometimes I'll put a lot of effort into finding a name, and sometimes they just comes to me. For example, the MC of one of my stories is named Olive, simply because I like that name. However, It took me ages to find a name for my other character, Kyra. It just depends, I guess.

    For fantasy names, you might want to try two-syllable nonsense words, as those often work. Or, you might actually use a word that sounds cool. For example, I have a character named Bane (though I was actually under the impression that was a name, because I thought it sounded like one...). Or, just try and find old fashioned names rarely used today. If it's fantasy, you have a lot of options that will still sound reasonable to the reader.
     
  7. Zombie_Chinchilla
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    Zombie_Chinchilla Member

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    When they're General Fiction, I just use normal names that I like. But when they're fantasy, I like using words that are Latin or Greek or some lost language.
     
  8. Naiyn
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    Naiyn Contributing Member

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    As a former D&D geek, I've got a rather large library to draw from for fantasy names, though I find many of the characters in my story have names you wouldn't be surprised to hear in the modern world somewhere.

    I do try to keep it regional, though. My MC's home is filled with a lot of modern day names-- Ari, Jenna, Shar, Wil, Nial-- to name a few. Other areas of my world are a bit more unusual, but nothing over the top-- Adrik, Tebrin, Naril, Kale, Nateel...

    When I make something up that (hopefuly) nobody has ever heard before, I try to make it sound like a name that you could easily imagine someone naming their kid in this day and age.
     
  9. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think using Agaue is a problem, unless your world is inspired by the culture where it is a woman's name. The Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network also sounds too obscure to be a problem.

    A lot of names mean something in one language or another. Hell is a town in Norway.
     
  10. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Seconded. I want readers to know my character's name, and that means knowing how to pronounce it. I hate it when writers confront readers with difficult-to-pronounce names just to be weird or alien.

    Tolkien was great at coming up with names. Strange, but always easy to pronounce and often beautiful.

    H.P. Lovecraft was terrible at it. How do you really pronounce "Cthulhu"? How do you pronounce "R'lyeh"?
     
  11. truant
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    truant New Member

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    It depends on what the name is being used for. Lovecraft didn't give his protagonists weird names, only things that were supposed to be weird or alien. I happen to think that naming things was one of his greatest strengths as a writer. Many of his names are somewhat difficult to puzzle out, but they are, by and large, quite memorable and compelling. Cthulhu and R'lyeh both roll off the tongue for me, but I'm a bit of a fan of his work. Yog-Sothoth, is another example of a great name. It evokes something alien and primal, and perfectly suits the target.

    Personally, I try to use short names with one or two syllables for most of my characters, preferably names that haven't been used before, since I write fantasy. I find long, complicated names tedious, more an affectation than a demonstration of originality. Then again, it depends on the thing being named. Giving something a weird, difficult name creates distance and adds an element of mystery. Just don't make it too hard to pronounce.

    My only rule is: Never give an important character a name that is difficult to pronounce. You don't want someone reading a book wondering if they are pronouncing your character's name correctly. You want them focused on the story, not pronunciation. I would never use names like Agaue or Pagn for a main character, for example, because the pronunciation is ambiguous for most readers. If you need to provide a key, just use the key instead: use Agow and Pagun. Both of those work better for me and seem more original and less contrived.
     
  12. MissPomegranate
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    MissPomegranate Member

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    Hell is also a town in Michigan. Using words as names shouldn't be a problem.
     
  13. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    I agree--for Lovecraft's intents and purposes, unpronounceable names were ideal; something truly alien would not have a name that human beings would choose, or pronounce. In fact, if I remember correctly, the spellings he uses are meant to be merely the closest humans can come to properly spelling alien names. But that is one of the few occasions that an unpronounceable name is ok; we are not meant to pronounce those names properly, even if we can cheat a little and semi-pronounce them. But if a main character has an unpronounceable name, it distracts from the story, and that is the opposite of what you should be aiming for.
     
  14. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've heard it's pronounced Coo-thool-hoo.

    But I think it's ridiculous to use non-phonetic spellings of names in a fantasy world. They aren't written using the English alphabet in the first place, so how can there be a specific way to spell them with the English alphabet?

    Heck, usually the people aren't even speaking English; the writer is just translating what they are saying into English for the reader's convenience.
     
  15. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    I agree that it's a bad technique in general, Islander, but Lovecraft does justify it. He describes the use of the Roman alphabet for spelling as a feeble attempt to transcribe the alien terms into something somewhat legible, he never says that that is the correct spelling. So it's not really the "specific" way to spell them. And it wouldn't be "Coo-thool-hoo," because that's pronounceable; "Cthulhu" is definitively unpronounceable. Just saying.
     
  16. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Even in fantasy, I'm really not a fan of names that are 5 syllables long, or unpronounceable (lol sorry Zach) or something that I'd never conceivably hear of in real life. It just makes me feel more cut off from the character, especially in a fantasy where the world is nothing like mine.

    I'm not saying it has to be some run-of-the-mill average name like John or Ashley -- uniqueness is great, but something I can pronounce, easily remember and preferably something that's short. Maybe something like Zayley, Cagan, etc -- different but not outlandishly weird.
     
  17. Des_Maca
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    Des_Maca Member

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    For fiction I try to mix languages together. As for my current writing project, I'm trying to combine Spanish and Russian to get a hybrid language.
     
  18. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    Rather than just picking names that I like the sound of, I like to look up the meaning first. Like if I want a strong, warrior like character, I'll go to a baby name website and search for 'warrior'. I also have some baby name books, so I skim through them on occasion and write down the names and meanings that catch my eye.

    On top of that, I made an extensive family tree for myself, and I've used some of the last names that I found on there.
     
  19. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I like H.P. Lovecraft's approach. Why in the world should an "alien" name or word be easy to pronounce? The opposite make much more sense to me. As people noted above, the words were meant to be truly alien. If humanity every encountered aliens among the stars, I don't think there's any reason at all to assume we'd be able to pronounce their words.

    Cthulhu fhtagn! :D
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    They might not even use speech as we recognize it. But you know what? History shows that if we don't understand another sentient's language, and it is too difficult to pick up, we use our own language, especially for naming.

    So the "unpronounceable name" argument really doen't wash.
     
  21. truant
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    truant New Member

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    For naming things, maybe, but not for transcribing proper names. That's considered indelicate. "I'm sorry, I can't pronounce your name. I'll just call you Joe, okay?"

    In any case, I think the point's been adequately made.

    When naming my own characters, I try to come up with a name that has phonetic resonances that convey the character of my...er...character. A name like Grug conveys a specific sort of character which is different from a name like Aximdel. Names should serve not only to indicate character, but also serve as mnemonic devices to assist the reader in remembering who the character is and what purpose they serve. This might seem like overloading, but it pays to give your names a bit of thought. They do matter to readers.

    Tolkien was another master at giving things and characters names. There aren't many names in the English language more memorable than Gollum.

    Joe fhtagn! :)
     
  22. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    I completely agree, Mallory--unpronounceable names are terrible in literature. I never said I supported Lovecraft's choice, only that he does manage to justify it. And like Cogito pointed out, saying that the true name is unpronounceable is fine, but human beings with substitute it with a name that they can pronounce.
     
  23. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    lol I understood what you meant about the Lovecraft thing, I was just making a joke about the fact your username on here is unpronounceable. :p

    Gollum is a great name.....:)
     
  24. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    Haha not as good as "Smeagol." And to be perfectly honest I can't pronounce my username either :p. I don't know why I chose it.
     
  25. IVIilitarus
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    IVIilitarus Member

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    Name generators exist for a reason. Just stick 'Fantasy name generator' or some variation and stuff'll happen.
     

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