1. June_1984
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    June_1984 New Member

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    Picking character names

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by June_1984, Jul 23, 2015.

    Hello,

    I'm just starting a new project and I'm struggling to pick names for characters that don't make me think of people I know. Does anyone have any tips or ideas for getting around this?

    Thanks
    June
     
  2. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Everyone has different ways of doing this. Personally I come up with names pretty easily - but there are workarounds. Lots of people use Baby naming websites. I've used phone books (my best name ever came out of a phone book). In my case I write near-future, so I take it a step farther and look at lists of the most popular baby names from the years my characters were born and then assign those to about half the characters (which is why all of my adult characters have young-sounding names like Madison, Aiden, Sophia, etc.)
     
  3. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Lilly James Haro and Nicoel like this.
  4. June_1984
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    June_1984 New Member

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    Thanks I'm new here I probably should have looked around a bit first.
     
  5. PrincessSofia
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    PrincessSofia Active Member

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    I like to give names that have a meaning / origin relating to the character/ his personality, so I spend a lot of time on baby names websites =)
     
  6. Kallisto
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    Kallisto Active Member

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    I definitely do baby name websites, mostly because I got too lazy to keep thinking of awesome fantasy names that in retrospect really weren't that good with a few exceptions. babynames.com has a good article about naming characters in books.

    http://www.babynames.com/lists/character-names.php

    It's a good read with some really decent tips to consider.
     
  7. Lyrical
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    Lyrical Frumious Bandersnatch

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    http://www.20000-names.com can be a good resource if you're looking for something grounded in a specific culture or if you're looking for a specific meaning. I also like http://www.nameberry.com because they have all kinds of lists that compile some great names together. They also have a forum for writers to talk about character names and get suggestions from peers. Some people use common names and just switch up the letters to they sound familiar, but not ordinary. The link that Komposten provided has so many suggestions.
     
  8. C. W. Evon
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    C. W. Evon Member

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    I own several baby name books. When I've got to name a major character, I go through them name by name, until I have read all the names for that gender in the book. It's ridiculous and time consuming, but it is what it is. As I go, I write down any name that jumps out at me--I don't even stop to think because this is sort of like brainstorming. After that, I eliminate, take the names that survived and eliminate again, and so on until I have just four or five names. Then I choose my favourite.

    Last names are harder for me. For my current novel, my protagonist's last name was just a stroke of chance. "Beamer." It just popped into my head, and it's perfect this over-confident, optimistic twenty year old.
     
  9. Burnistine
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    Burnistine Active Member

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    The way I choose character names is I make a list of first names, then last names. I make sure both lists contain names I like. Then I mix them together until I get the rhythm I want. Sometimes, I'll put two names together and go, "That's it." It's hit and miss, really. I remember one time I had two characters in a book with the same initials. I had to change the names. Hated that because I got attached to the names. So, make sure the initials of all characters are different. Why? Because sometimes when people read, they skim over, then they get confused, have to go back, sometimes way back and reacquaint themselves with the characters. Most times, people just toss the book.
     
  10. nikkimikkilee
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    nikkimikkilee New Member

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    I usually just pick the first name that comes to mind. Sometimes, I change it later.
     
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  11. jmh105
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    jmh105 Member

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    I might draw the character out or physically visualize them and see what names fit. If I can't come up with anything, I ask other people or use name generators/lists.

    Personally, I would never match meaning (i.e. special literary meaning) of a name to a character because that's not how most of us are named in real life. How is a parent to know their child's personality, prophecy, etc. from bith? The same goes to zodiac signs, and so on and so forth.

    One might name the character if they like the sound or feel of the name, or they might be naming the child after someone else, for example. For me, these are more realistic naming options.
     
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2015
  12. Sphinx
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    Sphinx New Member

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    I feel that names for anything should wait to be given until a certain point of story development (especially the title),
    so I just name them variables (like C1, C2, etc.) until I've come up with enough backstory for their parents and their parent's parents. It's best to get into the heads of your character's parents and think "what would they name him/her and why?"
    Sometimes this will lead to a very average name, sometimes it'll be a weird unheard of name combining other names or words and sometimes it can be a cruel name.
     
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  13. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I like baby name books - My favorite is Beyond Jennifer and Jennifer because instead of the authors giving you one list with meanings they separate the names into what people perceive the names to be - like sexy, handsome, creative, dated, pretty etc. I've read them so much I usually just pick the first name that pops into my head.

    Another way too is to pick a movie star you like and rather than just using their name you can go through the list of the characters they've played and see if there's anything interesting you can use. For instance if your character is as handsome and smooth as Cary Grant you can look him up - some of his are too plain and dated but some are quite interesting - Madison, Victor, Noah, Devlin, Leopold, Romer. This is actually how I got a name for my Mc in the 90s - Dexter from the Phildelphia story, and in the same story a character got the last name Devlin from Notorius, and recently I chose Cutter quite possibly from flashbacks of Gunga Din.
     
  14. Tom13
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    Tom13 Member

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    Sometimes a name just pops into my head as soon as I start writing, other times I am several thousand words in before I come up with a name I am happy with. I use baby name websites a lot, but tend to focus on different cultures to get something that sounds right. I don't bother about meaning but the sound of it is important, vowels are generally good for softer more gentle characters while hard consonants like 'k's and 'd's are good for harder chaarcters. I also try and avoid having two MCs with the same starting letter, it pays to make things as easy for the reader as you can.
     
  15. rhythmic-idealist
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    rhythmic-idealist New Member

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    Baby name books/name meanings have all been said, and that's my main trick, but a few other things I like to keep in mind:

    Think about the character's ethnic/religious background. I know a preacher's son named Christian, a jewish boy named Joshua, a Korean boy named Chang, etc. etc. It's reasonable that a character's name would line up with their family history and religion - but remember that this isn't ALWAYS the case. Try not to pick the most stereotypical name when writing about a race/ethnicity that isn't your own (for example, the internet's seen a thousand "Sakura"s).

    Think about the character's goal. When you're looking up name meanings, you can write about who they are, sure, but you can also search meanings relating to who they want to be, how ambitious they are, etc.

    Think about the character's parents. In some situations, it works nicely to give a character a name that relates to how their parents would have named them, not just who they are. Think about Mufasa (which apparently means "king") and Taka (Scar's real name, which apparently means "garbage"). That gives us a hint as to where that extreme resentment comes from, on Scar's part.

    At the end of the day, though, your character's name doesn't really need any special meaning. If it sounds right and you like it, then go for it.
     
  16. NeighborVoid
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    NeighborVoid Active Member

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    I regularly assign characters generic names with no regard for how their names relate to their personality or status. This sometimes creates a humorous contrast of expectations vs reality (within the fictional canon, of course). For example, the menacing villain the protagonists fight throughout the story might be named "Bob".
     
  17. Catrin Lewis
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    Catrin Lewis Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have no compunction about picking character names that remind me of people I know. Sometimes I'll deliberately name a minor character in honor of an old friend or relative (first name only). When it comes to major characters, though, I make sure to switch it up. I'll do a riff on a middle name, or find a name in another language that means the same.

    Names come pretty easily to me, which is why I find it important to Google any bright ideas. The "right" name for a character may have popped up simply because it's the handle of somebody who was notorious a few years back. Oops, try again.
     
    Last edited: Nov 28, 2015
  18. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    I do one or more of the following:
    • give the character the initials of someone I'm basing the character on (if I want to see that person in my mind while writing),
    • get a name from a baby-naming site so the meaning of the name either matches (or is in juxtaposition to) the personality of the character,
    • come up with some comical name where the joke isn't, at first, obvious.
    And sometimes I just stare at the ceiling until something comes to me. :)

    I also think a pretentious name works well if the story needs something like that.
     
  19. Chinspinner
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    Chinspinner Contributing Member Contributor

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    The Majestic Spinner of Chins?
     
  20. ShannonH
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    ShannonH Senior Member Supporter

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    I've used name generator sites in the past. Probably not the most efficient method but it's given me a few good suggestions that seem to perfectly fit some of my characters.
     
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  21. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    First and least of all: you might want to try going back and forth between full name generators and long lists of first/last names (rather than sticking with one or the other if that hasn't worked yet).

    Second and more importantly: I would recommend not simply looking at one combination of first+last name, deciding whether you like it or not, and moving on to the next if you don't. Instead, look at every combination you find and try to come up with reasons why you do or do not like them.

    They don't even need to be very good reasons, they just need to be specific patterns that you pay attention to. Even if you don't run randomly across a name that fits all of the criteria you've decided that you like, paying attention to the criteria you've set up will still help you to look more specifically for names that do fit.

    Third and most importantly: don't worry about it ;) A compelling character with a weak name will not only be remembered better than a weak character with a compelling name, but the compelling character will actually make the name more compelling.

    Real life: the Milwaukee cannibal was not horrifying because his name was "Jeffrey Dahmer," the name Jeffrey Dahmer became horrifying after being connected to the Milwaukee cannibal.

    Fiction: if I had never heard of JK Rowling or Breaking Bad, then the names "Harry Potter" and "Walter White" would've sounded incredibly commonplace and unremarkable to me.
     

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