1. Glen Snow
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    Glen Snow Member

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    What's in a name?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Glen Snow, Apr 2, 2014.

    There's plenty of threads about certain character names or lists of them. So I decided to start a thread where we can talk about names, the names of your characters, the reasoning for the name, and even help if you need help naming a new character. Hopefully this will help some people out and maybe cut down the number of name help threads.
    I find this site to be very valuable:
    Link

    So to start us off, I'm currently writing a fantasy piece. Most the characters have Latin names, Cassius, Gaius and so on. However most the last names aren't Latin. Is this a mistake? Should I try and give them Latin last names like Merula or the like? Would this take you out of the book a bit?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Brena - It sounds round. I equate roundness with innocence and naiveté, and also with knowledge (the book kind, not the street kind).
    Devin - The shape of the word and the break with the voiced labiodental fricative (v) creates a duality that defines the character for me.
    Marco - The /rc/ cluster makes me think of conflict and poorly oiled parts, an engine, the sound of which makes you wince when it turns over.
    Orman - It answers to the same roundness as Brena. In their soul they are similar characters.

    And that's how I pick names. ;)
     
  3. Jak of Hearts
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    Jak of Hearts Member

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    Jak Zephirose - For the most central character I like the name Jak because it is a very traditional, masculine, strong name. Zephirose is a portmanteau of Zephyr and Rose, to show both his wild spirit and his inner grace.

    Goron Bloodletter - G and R are harsh sounds, giving the orc warrior a barbaric sound when his name is uttered.

    Oak - The android monk. Oak shows both his resilience in physical body (being an android) and in mind (being a monk).

    Terralilly of the White-Hawk - I chose the name Terralilly because I like the way it is both beautiful but solid. White-Hawk was just kind of randomly thrown together.

    Vaes Autora Auragarde
    - This is the antagonist in my piece. He is charismatic, smart, but damaged and misguided. I chose the name because the sound gives him a sort of "exalted" feel. It is a way to show that underneath the villain is a good person. The sound of the name also gives homage to the fact that he is older than the rest of the characters, from an entirely different generation.
     
  4. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    Well, I've discussed mine, before, but I don't mind again if it helps others:

    • Dante - Means enduring. Main character, 40ish. Former lead guitarist for a rock band. Becomes the recipient of an implant giving him the memories and experiences of 14 other sentient beings while storing his. Becomes the human Ro'shaan.
    • BES - Diminutive of Elizabeth, but I didn't choose it for that reason. It started as an acronym, Bio Engineered Sentience."After a time, I decided it was a diminutive of her real name when she had a body.
    • Rawlings - VPOTUS, antagonist. Low quality sound gives it an ominous tone. No first name decided and he's really only referred to as Rawlings.
    • Mitchel - POTUS, lesser antagonist, fake-ally opponent. Needed a name.
    • Allison Stewart - New Mexico State Representative. 30s, buttoned up professional. Accompanies Dante and acts as eyes and ears to witness the rebirth of the Ro'shaan.
    • Pravaneh - Means butterfly. Sixteen year old musical prodigy from Iran. Represents Dante's embracing people of other cultures.
    • Jahangir - Means conqueror of the world. Iranian agent and spy working within the US. He's the dark side of life. Tasked with capturing and delivering Dante to Iran or killing him if he can't. Not a man of faith, but a strong nationalist.
    • Ro'shaan - Name taken from an episode of "Buck Rogers in the 21st Century." No meaning. It stuck with me for decades. Now I can get this ear worm out of my head. Ro'shaan is throughout most of the story, a title, but we learn it was the name of the first. Forcibly taken and made a cyborg 12,000 years ago as a test subject for an experiment in programming skills and motivations to make an elite soldier of unquestioning loyalty, he became the last of his people ten years after getting the implant. He and BES paired off and escaped to our galaxy.
     
  5. stevesh
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    stevesh Banned Contributor

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    As a reader, certain types of names annoy me. So many science fiction stories are full of characters with names like Dal-El, Signa and Njoki. There were people named Bob and Mary two hundred years ago and it's likely there will be such people two hundred years from now, and as population increases, last names should become more important, rather than disappear.
     
  6. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    I tend to agree with @Wreybies. I think a lot about how the name is pronounced, whether it be the effect of the name on the lips and mouth or the rhythm of the syllables. I hate it when an author throws me a curveball and I'm unsure which way to pronounce. Patrick Rothfuss's, Kvothe, is a good example of one that nearly had me tearing my hair out. I know now but I was genuinely perplexed at the time. (Do I pronounce the 'K' or not? Is the 'Kv' meant to come off a little Yiddish? Should there be an accent on the 'e'?....agggh!!!)

    An example of my own:

    Denton Teeg - He's described as having a smile like a mastiff, so I wanted something that would expose the teeth when said aloud, almost the literal equivalent of having a reader say, 'cheese.' The double 'e' in his surname ensures this. (Even the first four letters of his given name have a toothy connection, too.)

    As for the lack of Latin surnames in the original OP, the writers of the video game Mass Effect pretty much got away with it with the Turian race by mixing and matching. They did enough to provoke a feeling of Roman culture but played fast and lose enough so that those names that didn't quite fit the bill didn't stand out like sore thumbs. The names for the most part sounded like hybrids.
     
  7. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    From one of my SF themed novels:

    They are fairly common modern day names. No particular reason for the choices, although the third is a "celebrity name". Fashion and cultural changes caused an abbreviation of first names.

    Petr Tempest
    Trri Chandra
    Brnda Britanov
     
  8. Jak of Hearts
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    Jak of Hearts Member

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    I'm just going to be honest, if I saw a bunch of names like this in a book I would probably close it. They are frustrating and distracting too look at, especially if they are MCs and will be shown repeatedly.

    To reply to the question of the OP, I don't think the first names and last names need to be of the same descent at all. Look at modern society. In America today, the majority of last names are of European origin, however the most common rising trend in names is using mythological names or variants. So in twenty years it won't be uncommon at all to see Horus Smith and Athena Walker. Having a certain trend for last names tells a lot about the descent of the people there, while the first names are more telling of pop culture and trends at that specific time.

    On a side note though, if your world is entirely fictional, I would probably go with Latin surnames for the sake of fluidity and continuity within the world. If its a dystopian future or something, you could easily explain away names like Cassius Svengard. But in a purely fictional world of original creation, I think the audience would be less likely to believe that (unless you use different naming conventions for different parts of your fantasy world based on Earth names).
     
  9. T.Trian
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    T.Trian Overly Pompous Bastard Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I watch out for a few things when I'm coming up with names that aren't from my own country or English / American: I want to know whether the name is common or uncommon and I want to know its meaning as well as whether it's considered a silly name in its country of origin.

    I've started thinking like that thanks to anime: some of the characters have such silly names (some clearly unintentionally), especially characters who're supposed to be Finnish, so I want to avoid that 'cause it just looks... well, silly. Or if I do choose to go for silly, I want it to be my choice, not an accident stemming from ignorance.

    I already gave this example (or a similar one, can't remember) in another thread, but e.g. you could name a Finnish male character Urpo Jorma Nänninpää, and yeah, they are all legit names, but for contemporary Finns, that name means "stupid penis nipple's tip." Especially the first name is an old man's name and nowadays only sadistic parents would name their kid "Urpo" if they wanted him to be picked on at school. And anyone with the surname "Nänninpää" would be fully aware of how embarrassing it is because it means exactly what the translation says and it's the only meaning it has ever had.

    Anyhoo, if I'm using real names, I tend to look at lists on the internet and choose something that sounds close to what I've had in mind (I often just pick something that sounds good to me, fits the character's personality and looks, and passes my other requirements mentioned above), but I'm always trying to go for something that sounds authentic.
    For instance, in our current WIP, there's a Swedish-born character called Lise Armfelt. Both, her first and family name are pretty ordinary, nothing special, and I figured 'Lise' just suits her and I actually came up with a stupid pun for 'Armfelt' that an American character would come up with when encountering her for the first time. And I also like the fact that 'Armfelt' includes two English words (which the punner picks up on), so it doesn't sound too alien to English speakers (and 'Lise' is pretty close to 'Lisa,' so it won't have people scratching their heads too much either).

    If I'm creating names from scratch, I usually look at real cultures where our story's world is based for inspiration. For instance, if we're drawing heavily from medieval England, we'll look for Old English names and naming traditions or we might even look at Old English words and come up with our own names, but one thing we don't like to do is just to come up with random gibberish names that just sound fantasy-ish LOTR rip-offs: Baragorn, Nithrandir, Follum etc.
     
  10. Michael Collins
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    Michael Collins Contributing Member

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    I tend to choose short and simple names, going for sound and not for meaning.

    I can't stand the names used in bad fantasy and scifi, those names with lots of consonants and apostrophes.

    "My name is T'rfhss'drml, pleased to meet you Hgm'ferst."
     
  11. Bryan Romer
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    Bryan Romer Contributing Member Contributor

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    Since the book sells quite well and has received 5 star reviews (not from relatives), I suppose I'm lucky that some people aren't that frustrated.
     
  12. sunsplash
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    sunsplash Bona fide beach bum

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    If I have the character planned out already, I look for a name that I think fits based on my own perception of their personalities...if he's a hard ass I'm more likely to name him Alexander over Kip because of my associations with the names, one feels strong, the other weak. Just like I find names like Elizabeth, Victoria, and Charlotte to be regal and somewhat pretentious. Not everyone has the same feeling towards the names as I do but it's only my opinion that matters, you know? Sometimes age or period might come into play and I'll look up the stats from their birth year or decade to see what was popular and what was not. I wouldn't name an 18th century monk Jayden or a duchess Riley, for example. The meanings of names are sometimes important but not a prerequisite.

    Most recently I signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo but have never done one before and went into it with no ideas. I ended up messing around with names and based on random combinations, characters started to emerge, then personalities and how they would mesh with each other...not long after I had a decent base for a story to work on. It was my first time working in that process before and it was fun.

    As for the last names names matching their first, I don't think it is a necessity. My married name is extremely French, reflective of half of my husband's heritage. We chose our kids names based on my heritage (Norwegian & German) so they're a blending of us both, and while they sound nice (to me at least!) they aren't traditional in any sense, American or French. My own first name doesn't reflect any of my heritage, it was just a name my parents liked. I think as long as the last names are not over-the-top obvious of one culture that has nothing to do with your story, any name is fine. I care more about flow and ease of pronunciation as a reader and keep that in mind when naming my own characters.
     
  13. Glen Snow
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    Glen Snow Member

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    I dislike names like Petyr or the even worse Peeta. Why not just use Peter? Especially if Petyr is pronounced the same, and Peeta just sounds like you're writing in a Bostonian accent.

    Thanks for the advice. I've decided, since the world is completely fictional, to have different naming conventions based on geography. Latin like names in the metropolitan areas, Biblical/Hebrew names in an other and Irish/Scottish peppered into both.

    As for naming my characters. I start with whatever name I feel sounds best, I use this as a beta name. I'll use it throughout the first draft if I feel the character's personality is too far away from the meaning I may change it.
    I prefer to use origin over meaning. Reason being most peoples names don't always "fit" them. Take mine for example, my name is Christopher Glen which would be "Christ bearer" + "of the valley". A bit odd seeing how I'm an atheist whose never spent more than a day in a valley.
     
  14. Robert_S
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    Robert_S Contributing Member

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    Well, a writer wouldn't normally pick a name that was opposite of their character's purpose, function or personality, unless as possible comedic effect (a morose, emo chick named Gay).

    As an aside, somewhat, I was researching a name for a Mullah that questions the MC of my story and found Roshan on the list of Iranian names. It means "light, bright" but hopefully not the toy. A completely unintentional coincidence.
     
  15. Glen Snow
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    Glen Snow Member

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    Well I don't name them the opposite I just don't hit the nail on the head. I imagine their parents naming them and having no idea what personality the child will have. To me it feels more genuine I don't know why. It's one of those lid for every pot and to each their own things. The fact that most readers won't even notice either naming convention is the sad part. :)
     
  16. sunsplash
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    sunsplash Bona fide beach bum

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    Back in my naming forum days we called those "kr8tyv" spellings and they're a pet peeve of mine also. Peeta, not so much, but a random Y like in Petyr, a Q without a U to replace a hard K sound, and the absolute worst, IMO, the apostrophe misused as either a sound break or accent mark. Those types of names seems to pop up more in genres I don't read but unfortunately a lot IRL on beginning of the year class lists. o_O

    I'm a self-proclaimed name snob, I fully admit it. :oops:
     
  17. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    At some point the name Stark for a fictional character kept popping up no matter where I looked. There was ASOIAF, of course, then Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim, Iron Man, one character in Farscape... It was funny because I associate the word with mustard (as a kid I wondered why it read 'stark' on the mustard bottle. I didn't know any Swedish back then), so instead of strong and masculine I just find the name kind of funny.

    I also tend to think about the angle of what would the parents name their kid, but sometimes the name comes from elsewhere. I mentioned it in another thread that I have a character of French origin called Amélie... And she wasn't named after the movie. I decided to keep the name nonetheless. I thought it fit, I felt like her parents might've been, like yeah, this is the perfect name for her when she was born.
     

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