1. Syn Opsis
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    Syn Opsis Member

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    The Art of Naming Characters

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Syn Opsis, Jan 6, 2010.

    I've noticed that character names, in books of authors I admire, are very carefully chosen. At least it seems that way - or am I wrong?

    Do the characters end up fitting their names through skillful writing, or does the naming give you a head start into their development?
     
  2. Cosmos
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    Cosmos Contributing Member

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    I think I mentioned elsewhere but I'm no fan of making a character suit their name. Sure it happens from time to time, but most of the time the name given has no relation on the character's appearance, personality or any trait of their's. And you probably like the names of the characters because you like the story which generally makes it easier to be fond of the names by association.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I carefully choose names, but not for meaning. I choose them to feel natural, diverse, and sufficiently distinct from others in the same story to avoid mixing them up.
     
  4. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am pretty much in agreement with Cogito.

    The name has to fit the character. Timmy Silk, for example, probably would not fit for a hulking linebacker on the football team. If that was his name, maybe a nickname would take over?

    A name is an anchor point for a reader to not only picture/form an image--including personality traits of a character, also to identify and remember readily when they're referred to in the text of the novel.

    Terry
     
  5. Cosmos
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    Cosmos Contributing Member

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    I forgot to add, and was reminded by the above posts, that characters that I name generally have the naming related to whatever their parents/guardians are like. If they're religious or political, etc. that tends to reflect what the child is named. Sometimes I also make them a namesake, since that also tends to happen in reality...however I make sure the one they're named after is generally minor in the story (or dead) or else it would cause the confusion problem that Cogito mentioned.
     
  6. Syn Opsis
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    Syn Opsis Member

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    Tom Smith, before you know anything about him, I would assume forms some opinion in the reader that he is a plain, uncomplicated character. Whereas Dimitri Smith immediately lends intrigue to the character.

    Of course, you may feel differently after so many chapters have fleshed out either one's traits. Like Silky being a football player in the example above. After you discover he's an elusive running back, the name is not so out of character.

    If a name offers a head start into character development, one might as well take advantage of it. But on the other hand, one might want use it as a juicy setup!
     
  7. Sophronia
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    Sophronia Member

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    I give names that I think sound nice and can fit with the character, rather than fitting the character to the name. There may also be variations in my character names according to the characters' cultures and backgrounds.
     
  8. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know. Under certain circumstances, such a soft name for such a hard-body would be an interesting, not to mention memorable, juxtaposition (Even if hidden behind a nickname like T.S.).
     
  9. Aeschylus
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    Aeschylus Contributing Member

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    I agree with Sophronia; my characters take shape as characters before I name them. The name is then selected usually based on sound, and whether I feel that name's sound fits the character. The "shape" of the name also matters to me--what letter it starts with and ends with--sometimes the silent "e" at the end of a name will determine whether I choose it or not. If one of my characters was some scrawny little nerd kid, for example, I wouldn't name him Brutus.

    I sometimes give my characters names that are symbolic, or name them after characters from other books or real people. But even then, I only give them the name if the sound of the name fits them. For example, in my sci-fi/horror story "Oxygen", I named one of the main characters Dagny, after Dagny Taggart from the novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. But the name, in my mind, looked and sounded like it fit the character.

    I seem to be somewhat synesthetic, too--I'll choose certain names because, in my mind, I associate the name with a certain color. This doesn't play as big a role as sound, however.

    Honestly, I don't care whether other people think the name fits them. Because they're not the ones coming up with the character. Sometimes I'll read a book in which the characters are named in ways I'd never name them, but it's the author's call.
     
  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Names, names....

    What's in a name?

    I'm Ok with symbolic names when they are not too heavy handed. If there is a mythical connection, please let it be an obscure one. There are countless gods, goddesses, heroes and heroines that are rarely if ever used.

    Strangely, one of my favorite authors, Octavia Butler, was fond of plucking names from mythos and applying them liberally. The excellence of her writing allowed me to forgive.

    Don't give me soap opera names either. Absolutely no one in my tax bracket has those names. Names like that are a deal breaker for a story. Book goes back on the shelf at Borders unpurchased. I will forgo actually mentioning any soap opera names on the off chance that someone has such an appellation.

    P.S I just went to a Soap Opera name generator website and it gave me Roman Vanderburgh as my Soap Name. That's what I'm talking about. I will not be reading a story about Roman Vanderburgh any time soon.
     
  11. DragonGrim
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    DragonGrim Contributing Member

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    :eek:Roman Vanderburgh, OMG, that’s the name of my protagonist!:p
     
  12. Syn Opsis
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    Syn Opsis Member

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    Haha! But, of course!

    I like your approach, define the character, name him later.
     
  13. Darkom
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    Darkom Member

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    Indeed, names are one of the lasts things I do with characters. And when I do need to choose, I usually base it on their cultural or language background. Just a quick google search of "German masculine names" can usually get what I need :)
     
  14. bux
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    bux Member

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    For me, it's all about feeling the story and naming the charecters accordingly. I love the way a charecters name can stay with you long after reading a book or story. In saying that, Milo MinderBinder from Catch-22 had to be some sort of joke, but it worked perfectly and was integrated into the story perfectly, the same with Major Major.
     
  15. writewizard
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    writewizard Contributing Member

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    I couldn't agree more, although I don't hesitate to change my character's name in the middle of a story if it doesn't fit. ;)
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Absolutely. Names are subject to change, and the name should fit well in the story, the culture, and so on.
     
  17. Syn Opsis
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    Syn Opsis Member

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    That, my friend, is exactly why I asked this question! I have changed the name of one of my main characters three times. Each time it shades that character slightly differently. And, I don't think I'm done. You know that feeling that it's good, but it could be better? Well, that's where I'm at...

    I hear some say they have look-up databases for names?
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    There are, but I don't care for them. But I do get name ideas by watching the end credits in movies and TV shows, and from watching news programs. Sometimes I'll be immediately inspired on a better name for a character in a work in progress. More often, I simply remember the names for later use.
     
  19. Fatherof5
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    Fatherof5 Member

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    Interesingly enough, after i started writing my story I mt a real world person with a name and traits like my MC...so I had to change a few things.
     
  20. Syn Opsis
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    Syn Opsis Member

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    Why?
     
  21. Kirvee
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    Kirvee Contributing Member

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    I prefer to have my names have meaning along with the character's personality. Since I personally find it interesting when authors take the time to appropriately name their characters (and it gives the fanbase of that novel/series material to discuss about and discover which I personally know is a rather fun activity).

    However, sometimes character names will come to me as either a first name or a whole name. Like for example, the protagonists of my Demon Story both had their full names come like a packaged deal with the story idea. Other character names I've had to figure out.

    Similarly in a different story idea of mine, the main character is named Dimitri, but the character is female.

    I also sometimes, depending on how long the plot and characters have sat in my head, develop a character first before giving them a name to fit their developed personality. Like my elf character in my Demon Story has had his personality developing in my head for quite a while and I just now got around to searching out a proper name for him.
     
  22. Anders Backlund
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    Anders Backlund Contributing Member

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    I'm very stylized in my character naming. Heroes need heroic-sounding names, villains need villanous names, etc.

    Regardless if I pick names that seem to fit the character's personality or the role they're playing in the story, I tend to aim for names that you could definitely encounter in real life, but that do not sound plain or ordinary.

    While that can result in a cast full of unusually cool or odd names, I figure that since I'm writing about people who fly and shoot fire from their fingertips, it's all part of the fun.
     
  23. Marcelo
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    Marcelo Contributing Member

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    Holy crap! You're back Anders! xD
     
  24. Anders Backlund
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    Anders Backlund Contributing Member

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    Yeah, it's been a while now, hasn't it?
     
  25. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    I usually pick a name to suit my character's physical person. I wouldn't pick the name Maggie for a beautiful blonde princess, because it's a little too ragtag for someone of her social status.

    I also pick ironic names, just for the lulz. So basically I pick a meaning totally opposite of the personality of the character.

    For example, my protagonist is your stereotypical wholesome, kind hero. He's always willing to work another job to help his mother and seven younger siblings. His name is Drake, which means dark dragon.
     

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