1. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    Whats in a name?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Donal, Jul 17, 2010.

    "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"

    Is this really the case. I find with my characters I like their name to say something about them even if a reader would never make the connection. I find it just helps me relate to them better. A waste of time or a common issue.

    For example two of the characters in my current project:

    The protagonist is called Jamie Hagan. He is a young man who has lost his father and is the main character who will go through the most change in the novel. His name is very much a more Irish-ed up version of Jim Hawkins (Treasure Island). The two are quite similar and although Jamie is older than Hawkins he is a bit childlike and will do a lot of growing up in the book.

    Similarly his mother is something of a tragic character. I won't go into too many details as its not really the place but she is the tragic figure in the novel. Her name is Bróna Hagan. Bróna being a female Irish name that translates almost directly as "sorrow".

    Is that kind of thing worthwhile even if its just me who feels the benefit.
     
  2. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    My characters names are very important to me, once I have named them and written about them I cannot change it for me it becomes part of them.. I find it interesting the ones I have chosen before I put any real thought into it have meanings that work really well, classic authors like Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Charles Dickens etc seem to have put thought into the meaning of their names when they chose them:

    King Angus - Angus means one strength/force/energy and is associated with youth. He is seventeen when he is landed with major responsibility. Everything about him his strength lol

    Beatrice Qing - Beatrice is Blessed/Voyager/Traveller and works well for her. Her Voyage comes out in a later story. Qing is Greenish blue, she has unusual sea green eyes and is a direct descendant of the Hai-Ren or sea people in my book.

    King Lorenzo - Father of King Angus, comes from Laurel which was a sign of victory in Greece. Its rather ironic in his case he is quite a tragic character. He is neither exceptionally good or evil, his situation in life allowed him to be neither.

    Prince Thomas - Lorenzo's Twin brother it means Twin.

    Gilbert - is King Lorenzo's Valet

    I also have a host of characters with oriental style names that are based on names that have appropriate meanings they are part of the indigenous tribe.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I prefer names to be natural. I collect names from everywhere - day to day life, books, movies (including the credits!), newscasts, everywhere. I choose a name that sounds plausible for the character, but of no particular significance. I once named a character Todd because his fate was to die horribly (Tod is German for death), but I don't make a practice of it.

    We are given names before our nature is well known. A name can bend our development. Imagine your school days if you were named Percy. A boy named Marion may well turn out to be a tough guy, like Marion Mitchell Morrison (John Wayne). Or you can adjjust your name as an adult. If you were given the name Johnathon at birth, you could become John, Johnny, Jack, Jacky, Jake, Jay, Jonathon, or J.R. as an adult, and each would be associated with a different temperament.

    Other naming considerations for fiction: choose names that are clearly distinct. If two key characters are named Kevin and Kenny, it may take longer for your readers to tell them apart than if you choose Kevin and Patrick.

    But you know what? One thing I never do is sweat over the name. If I choose poorly, and realize it much later, I can do a global replace. I've done exactly that more than once.
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sometimes I write practice stories while watching golf tournaments on TV. I glance up from the screen and there's the leaderboard, full of names of various nationalities, and I just pick this first name and that last name and I'm set. Then, of course, the characters' personalities seep into their names and those names become unchangeable. I can't imagine doing a global replace, as Cogito has done, to change a character's name. Changing a character's name, after I've worked enough on a story, would be traumatic. It would be almost like changing genre. If Robert becomes Henry, then Robert's science-fiction story becomes Henry's historical romance. It's that jarring.

    When I'm doing more serious work - not practice stories - I think quite a lot about the names of my characters before I properly begin writing. I may write some sample scenes involving the characters using different names; this helps me settle on what the names really are. Then I can start writing the story properly.
     
  5. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    I wish I had done that Minstrel lol its an idea I am going to take and use. Like you I can't change my characters names, I made the mistake of naming Gilbert, Gilbert just for something to call him. I had assumed I could go back and change it. The name does not suit the man on any level and I keep wanting to shout it as its a name of a Teddy Bear on one of my kids TV shows, and the character screams GILBERT!!! in almost every episode.

    I ended up writing in how he got such an unsuitable name and allowing the characters to call him Gil lol - your idea is much more sensible trying out names before writing properly. Thank You
     
  6. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Donal, your method of naming that you described sounds fine.

    What you want to stay away from is being too blatantly obvious. For example, naming a hunter "Hunter," a shy person "Shadow," etc. Also, try to steer away from really unfitting names that will confuse the reader. If it's something like Tolkien then it's OK to use fantasy-sounding names for a fantasy-sounding world, and it's also fine to pick an unusual name for any type of character...but realize the difference between an unusual name, and really long/non-pronouncable name, or a name that constrasts the character's ethnicity (i.e. Miruyosho for a non-Asian person). These things will just seem out-of-place.

    Think about factors like the time period, family culture, etc and think what types of names the char's parents would have given him/her. Find something that fits them personality-wise, but not in a way so obvious that it's cliche.
     
  7. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    Sometimes I choose a name for it's meaning but I doubt the reader would ever look into it to see. I never choose a name that I don't feel suits my character. It's really all over the place how I choose. Sometimes it's just because I like that name. Or because I like it on that character. I never choose it on one thing alone. It's generally because I like it and it suits the character. Sometimes it's the meaning, because I like it, and it suits the character. One of those two.
     
  8. Herl
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    Herl Member

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    well in the esoteric world, names have meanings. I'm not saying they do, but heck, don't we judge people by their names everyday in our lives? some judge more than others, but we all think "man, that's a terrible name" or "hah, that's how that person I once loved so much is called too" when we hear certain names, who are we to say that names have no meaning at all?

    I'm not saying you must think your character's name carefully, but as some has said, it has to flow with the character. some characters are born with a name when you think of them, even if you don't clearly see the name in your head until you finish writing of them.
     
  9. Mila
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    Mila Member

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    I like to give my characters names that say something about them. For example, I have Adharan, who is a druid. His name is from the Gaelic for 'sky'. It fits him well - couldn't really take him seriously if he was called Jim ( no offence to anyone who is...). I've got Darach, which is Gaelic for 'oak' - he's a gardener.
    I've got another character I haven't yet named, but the name that keeps popping into my head every time I picture his face is 'Robert'.
    While the reader may not associate any particular significance with a name, the writer will, and this will ( presumably ) show in the character so that the reader will know they couldn't be called anything else.
    There are traditions in the tribal world where a child will get a name at birth, but it's only a child name - they'll earn their adult name. So you might actually get an excellent hunter who is called 'Hunter'.
     
  10. Northern Phil
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    Northern Phil Active Member

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    What I prefer to do when thinking of names is to keep them simple, you will rarely find that a name that goes over two or three syllables so this is what I try to stick to.

    A name is chosen by the parents because they think it sounds good. In reality it has no bearing on who you are or who you become. They may name a child after current celebrities or from a family member or they may use a name that is popular at the time.

    You may be surprised to learn that Philip is a rather common name, when I was at school I was never the only Philip, at one time there were four of us in a class of thirty. My name also means lover of horses, I hate horses because I'm allergic to all hairy animals. They should change the meaning to lover of technology and then it would more accuratly describe me. See, my name, like everybody elses is just a title which has no bearing on who you are.

    In the UK William is becoming quite a popular name for children and is it any surprise that Prince William has now taken the spotlight, (blast, I've just realised that I've named one of my characters William). I also think a lot of newborn kids will be named Edward and Bella.
     
  11. Nervous1st
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    Nervous1st Senior Member

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    I don't think there is a problem with what you're doing. For the experienced writer, who has created hundreds of characters, to name another one is not that big a deal. But for the amateur working on their first pieces, the characters are like your children and it's important to name them something that you feel emotionally connected to - especially when you spend so much time with them.

    I agree with the advice from PP to keep the name simple, there is nothing worse than for a reader to stumble every time they come across their name. Keep in mind the time/era of your novel. My name is classic for late 70's early 80's, in fact I think it was ranked in the top ten for about 5 years running but now I wouldn't think it would be in the top 1000.

    Without thinking, I named the two main characters of my novel Anna and Nicole. They have really stuck but now I can't help thinking of Anna Nicole Smith and so one of them is going to have to go :(
     
  12. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    You have to be careful that a name doesn't jar the reader/viewer, or suggest something that you didn't really mean. I never understood how that character in Scrubs got the name 'Turk'. That surname in a non-Turkish person is just plain weird, what kind of statement was the writer trying to make? It's stuff like this that is distracting. I think what N1st said about Anna Nicole is right, the brain makes a connection, and unless that is the point, the name needs to go.
     
  13. Evelyanin
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    Evelyanin Senior Member

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    Just pick a name you are comfortable with. I usually make a list of names I like and dislike, and then match them up to my antagonists and protagonists. The problem is, you are never going to be able to please everyone. For my story, I chose the name Jude as one of the characters. He is a strong, slightly immature kind of leader guy with a touch of goofiness in him. When I asked someone else their opinion on the name Jude, I got bratty little kid. Huge difference.

    Anyways, you are writing the story, and if you have a name that reminds you of something else than that character is, it could greatly effect how the character is going to turn out in the end. You'll be amazed how easy most readers will be able to ignore names they dislike if they really get into the book. Of course, if it is a name they really dislike, it can't be avoided, though write a really really really good book, and even that won't matter.

    One word of caution, avoid names that everyone recognizes. Particulary the bad ones. So don't name the sweet heart of the story "Jezebel". Some lesser known ones you might be able to get away with. However, even in Moby Dick "Ahab" wasn't that great of a guy.
     
  14. bumblebot
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    bumblebot Senior Member

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    It's true that in real life, we do not get to wait until our identities are well-developed, then pick the name that best suits the person we have become. But people still make judgments based on another person's name; not only nationality and age, but our names are one of the first general impressions people get from us, whether these assumptions end up being correct or not. What kind of person comes to mind when you hear the name Jasmine? Maude? How might people named Xavier and Dan be different?

    I do think that the most important thing is that a character's name fits with their background; the time period, the place, the type of name their parents would have picked for their baby. But to me, it's also an opportunity to give readers a hint about who that character is. To me, the hard part is balancing suitability and meaning, so that a name doesn't sound contrived, but also says something about the character, whether it's an association with someone else of that name, the meaning of the name, or just the way it sounds/looks.
     
  15. constant scribbler
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    constant scribbler Member

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    most people have stereotypes on names. For instance I knew an petite blond Amy when I was younger so every time I think of the name Amy I see a petite and blond girl. The stereotypes you have on names can influence the names you give your characters. I also give my characters names based on meaning. I think this is a good thing to do, even if the readers don't care, because it helps you understand and develop your character better. Understanding why you named them the way you did helps you to understand your character. I find that I can switch the names of characters around until I finally figure out exactly who they are. The name is also the identy of the character. Shakespear said "a rose by any other name will still smell as sweet" and that is true. However if you said to someone I want a red instead of rose they will not know what you mean. Make sure the name feels right to you because that is what matters.
     

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