1. Ralinde
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    Ralinde Member

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    Which Comes First? The Name or the Character?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ralinde, Dec 28, 2014.

    Hello Everyone,

    First of all, thank you for reading this thread and secondly, another thank you if you reply.

    I am sure that at some point, many of us have struggled to put a name to a character. In particular, a name to their main character. I find that for me, just about any and all secondary or minor characters are quite easy to name and I think this is because I don't know them that well, nor do I need to unless that should change somewhere down the track. Many of us form an impression of someone purely based on their name simply because we know someone else with that name and what they are like. So if I have a devious or sly character, it is quite easy for me to pick something like Stephen, Jasper or Roland and immediately the mind can easily conjure up the image of a weasley little fellow with squinty little eyes, buck teeth and clammy hands.

    The main character however, I find almost impossible to name. I feel their name is the most important and all sorts of things must be taken into consideration when choosing it. My own name is 3 syllables so I just about always pick 3 syllables for girls and have no trouble with that. Boys on the other hand are another story. One or two syllables work better for me with them and I think the same goes for most people. One suggests a strong, straight forward hero whereas 2 syllables speaks of someone a bit more complex and with a bit more depth to them I think.

    Syllables and connotations aside however, I can eventually find a name that I like but I always find it just doesn't feel right after a few days. The character remains dead on the paper and I can not seem to make the name stick. I can't picture their face or how they might react in a given scenario and I wonder if this isn't because I haven't written anything about them yet. And yet when I try to put them into 'get-to-know-you' scenarios like I have read being suggested to get to know your character, I find it hard to 'get to know' them if they don't even have a name! It is very odd to be writing about meeting your character in a bar and asking them what their name is to which they reply, "my name is OH" and you reply, "you have a strange name, what does is mean?" And they say it stands for "Our Hero".

    So my question is this - which do you think it is better to do first: name the character and develop them or start developing and then choose a name? How do you do it? How do you find the perfect name or one you can live with? How do you bring the character to life for you and give them a name? Is it okay to change it down the track or is that just going to completely throw things all about? I once read that JK Rowling said that one day Harry Potter popped into her head fully formed whilst she was on a train ride. I don't know about anyone else but that rarely happens to me and I am not exactly a fan of waiting for that to come along and happen.

    Thoughts? Tips? Advice? I would love to hear it. Thank you.
     
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Start writing.

    Dithering about character names is just one more way to put off the hard work of writing the damn book.

    Give your MC whatever name pops into your head; you can change it later, as many times as you want. (Just make sure you chose a name that isn't going to confuse your 'search and replace' function. Like, don't call your guy Art, or when you change it to Bert you're going to find a bunch of weird words in your MS - Artist would be Bertist, etc.)
     
  3. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    ^^ Totally agree. Names are really the last thing to worry about - name the mc XXX and get to the real writing.
     
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  4. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Character. The name comes later, and can be changed. If it comes first, great, but doesn't need to. It's the easiest to change character detail.

    If you need a name to build the character, you're doing it wrong. Your character is simply a construct. Even ships start as a hull number.
     
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  5. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    The problem with giving somebody a name (e.g. Roland) because you, personally, know somebody whom you dislike who has that name is that not everybody has the same circle of friends...if you Google Roland, for instance, you come across Le Chanson de Roland, where Roland is the hero's name. So if you're using the name as shorthand so that you don't have to spend time fleshing out the character because "everybody know what a Roland is", your writing won't reach your readers.
     
  6. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just pick a name. The character will grow into the name -- just like real people do.
     
  7. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't overthink names but I've piled a lot in my head. I like to collect Baby Name books. Don't let yourself be stalled out trying to come up with the perfect name for a heroine - Jane Eyre the book makes Jane into the most romantic sounding name in the world. Let your character make the name not vice versa.
     
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  8. Christine Ralston
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    Christine Ralston Active Member

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    I agree with BayView. Just give them a name, develop the character, and write the book. The character's name can change later before you publish. I've changed character names lots of times. When it's a WIP anything can change and lots should.
     
  9. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    You haven't written anything about your MC yet? :eek: You are stressing over the small stuff. Your character is a ghost because you've been wasting time thinking about the connotations of syllables. When it comes down to it, a name is just a means of differentiating one person from another. I love my MC's name, but I am sure there are plenty that wouldn't care to name their first born after him. Do I care? No. Because readers are more interested in the substance of a character, rather than the name tag. The strength of a name alone won't get the reader from cover to cover. If not being able to name your character is stopping you from writing about him, there are bigger issues at work here.

    That scene you attempted? I do that kind of thing all the time but my first line of enquiry usually is: "What can you tell me about yourself?" Wouldn't even occur to me to ask the characters name. Now that I come to think about it, one of my two protagonists got referred to as 'The Redhead' and 'he' for his first three months of his existence, then bored with that I started referring to him by his profession. :rolleyes: But when his name came to me, it stuck. Did it feel awkward at first...yeah, sure it did, but even when we name our children, calling them by it feels a bit strange for a while. That's only because there has been no precedent. (Or in the case of namesakes, it's just weird to be calling a baby the name we've been accustomed to calling an adult.)

    My only peeves when it comes to names are those that cause hesitation because I can't settle on a way to pronounce them, or those that bear a striking similarity to another and cause confusion. Aside from these, I can accept any character name, even those that may not initially seem fitting.

    Settle for now, and if something better occurs to you, simply Find and Replace.
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2015
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  10. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would have never thought that choosing a name for the characters in a story could be so complicated until I joined this forum. I probably don't understand the process and tend to think that real people get their names from their parents who often choose family names, famous people at the time, their (parent) idols such as rock stars, etc. I took offense with your connotation of the names Stephen, Jasper, and Roland as sneaky, squinty eyed people; Roland was my favorite character in Mission Impossible, I believe Stephen is a Saint, and Jasper is an old southern name given new life with the Twilight Series, I believe. So for me choosing a name probably is driven by thinking of the characters ancestry, if they are from Scotland I would not name them using a Spanish name for example.

    Overall the names should be a minor concern, at least at the beginning of writing your story I would think.
     
  11. Shamgar81
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    Shamgar81 Member

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    i agree with tounguetied i personally if i have a name i like at the beginning then it will get changed at a later date i dont mould the story round the name of the character i mould the character round the scenes in the story and if the name fits then great if not, think of another :)
     
  12. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    So true! I read a story where one of the characters was called Gill and was a man. From a UK perspective, at least, Gill is a girl's name - an abbreviation of Gillian and pronounced with a soft G, as in Jill. OK, it might be Gil - hard G - as an abbreviation of Gilbert. Either way, I spent too much time and effort trying to say that name in my head while I was reading.
     
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  13. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    @Shadowfax Funny you should mention that. When I read The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan, I had no problem when he referred to his protagonist by his full name, Ringil Eskiath, or just Ringil. However, when his name was shortened to Gil, it caused me pause for thought as the girl who grew up in the house next to me was called Jill. And yeah... like it or not I'm considered a Brit. Of course I knew how to pronounce the name—Gil as in Gill, the breathing apparatus of a fish—but still, every time I saw it on the page I got distracted thinking about her. ;)
     
    Last edited: Dec 29, 2014
  14. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Names can be important. We all know at least a few fat Bobs. The name even sounds fat, with the big o. It rhymes with blob, and makes you think of that round ball just floating in the water when you go fishing.


    Barbie is going to make most people think of doll. If you name a girl Barbie, I'm going to think long legs and make up. Of course, you can change this initial impression of the character, just like with Bob, but you're going to have to work harder.

    Stella makes me think of the stars...
     
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  15. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    "Bob" doesn't read as fat to me. I don't think I know anyone named Bob, fat or otherwise.
     
  16. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    The thing about names is that, unless you pick one belonging to a very famous person, each name is going to mean something different to each reader. There is no way to pick a name that's going to "be" your character to anyone but you. I have a couple favorite names, but otherwise I use a baby names book, a phone book - I've even used census forms and spam. Flip the pages, stab down my finger - hey! That character's taken care of. Next!
     
  17. ddavidv
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    ddavidv Contributing Member

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    I've used the phone book. I've also used names from my family tree after a genealogy search. Names are everywhere. Don't forget you can invent names (never met a 'Katniss' but what a great name).

    Going deeper I've done searches for name meanings. I have a female character who is very strong and feisty so wanted/needed a name that had that as a hidden meaning while still being feminine and something I liked the sound of. She became Brianna which is Celtic meaning 'the strong one'. That little bit of research also gave me the title for her book. :)
     
  18. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm mildly disappointed nobody has told you that if your character is male, name him "Oliver Klozoff," and if your character is female, name her "Bea O'Problem."
     
  19. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    Nope. Lager.
     
  20. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Write the character, worry about the name later. Call it Billie for now, and get the story going.

    I still haven't settled on the final name of my MC. His current name doesn't even make much sense and, in fact, I don't even like the name, but in my case it doesn't affect the way I write him. He's actually been called that for years already, but the possible reader won't know it, so it doesn't matter if I change it at the last second.

    Now if it is important for you to find the perfect name first, fair enough, it's the way you work, but my suggestion is to just write the story and worry about it later.

    If it's fantasy, make sure to google the name first though, that way you'll find out, hopefully, if it means something silly in another language and you still have time to reconsider. Like Elin. I'd think of a dingdong if I saw it somewhere.
     
  21. ogu
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    ogu New Member

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    Do you have a concept or an inspiration or an event that happens which defines your character? If so you can collect your thoughts around that.
     
  22. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    "Bob" doesn't sound fat to me, either. This is part of the danger being discussed--the assumption that one's own feelings will also be felt by the reader.

    Edited to add: Though I hope that you were joking and making exactly that point.
     
  23. BlackRaven
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    BlackRaven Banned

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    Character vs. Name.

    How about neither. I do it simultaneously.

    I have the basics of my character in my head and find a name that works before I even start writing. The only prior writing would be a sketch out - name, physical description and personality - on a sketchpad.
     
  24. Gladiatrix
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    Gladiatrix Member

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    I'm no expert on these things but I would say that usually for me they both kinda pop into my head at the same time, especially for main characters.

    I like the idea of the sketch out, never done that before!
     
  25. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The name is far more mutable. It doesn't matter which you develop first, the name will be locked in last.
     

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