How do you choose names?

Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Jack Asher, May 12, 2014.

  1. graveleye

    graveleye Senior Member

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    I have two cats, Mae and Julie.
    I needed to names for minor characters, so I just named them after my cats.
    It tickles me every time I read that chapter, knowing the cats don't give a flip, and no one else knows either.
     
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  2. Harmonices

    Harmonices Active Member

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    Lazily. I just use the first name that pops into my head.
     
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  3. Reece

    Reece Active Member

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    I used to walk my dog at a local cemetery and look at the gravestones for name inspiration. I discovered they have a burial index online, and I will go name hunting every now and then, skimming the pages and jotting down the ones I like. When I have an unnamed character, I will go through the list and choose a name, then mark it as taken and add a line about the character.
     
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  4. FoxInSpace

    FoxInSpace New Member

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    Increasingly creative google searches and jotting down every single name I hear that I want to include in my story. (Guess who is juggling a metric ton of characters as a result)
    And I'm not the first to mention this, but fantasynamegenerators.com is the best site ever, because it has generators for literally everything.

    Sometimes I still get really, really stuck though... mostly when I come up with a character before I can come up with the name, because that makes it feel like nothing fits, or when I base my characters on real people.
     
  5. Reece

    Reece Active Member

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    Do you keep a running list of names? I find it super helpful to create a new character and pore over the list until something fits. I have a list of close to 300 right now, so there is always something that works.
     
  6. XRD_author

    XRD_author Banned Supporter

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    One way is Google translate: pick something related to the character, and see how it translates into other languages.
    For example, one of my MC's names is based on an Arabic word for "success" that I really liked the sound of.
    And given how difficult it was for her mother to have her, it makes sense.

    I then created a backstory for why her mother (who doesn't speak Arabic) chose the name, which the reader eventually sees a hint of.
    It's very tragic. Her mother is the antagonist, at least a little insane, and does horrible things to the MC, but once the reader reads about how the MC got her name, I think they'll feel sympathy for her mother.

    Of course, the MC stops using the name about 20K words into the book, since she's hiding from her mother. But her Mother keeps calling her it for a while, until she learns the MC's new name.
     
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  7. FoxInSpace

    FoxInSpace New Member

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    I do keep a list, but sometimes not even that helps - especially since I am juggling a whole bunch of alien species with individual naming conventions as well.
    I'm currently trying to finally pin down a name for a character I've been struggling with for over a year - I have a thread up for that one as I've finally realized I might need some help there.
     
  8. Zombie Among Us

    Zombie Among Us Active Member

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    I like choosing names that aren't actually names. For example, I have a character in my WIP named Glass Cannon. Super strong in muscle, but easily hurt by words. I may or may not have been thinking of metaphors, thought of that one, and developed his personality around it.

    There's also a character quite like me who's name is Jackie. If I had to change my name, I'd change it to Jackie, so that's where that comes from. Other names just come to me.

    I also have a system. A certain group is named after creatures, one is plants, and one group has names like Glass Cannon. They all have real names, but most of them don't use them. I may introduce an idea I've had on the back burner; soldiers named after astronomical stuff.
     
  9. Katibel

    Katibel Member

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    Since I write High Fantasy a majority of the time, I start at language. If I have not yet developed a cursory structure for the language of my protagonist's nation, I devote time to that. Once I have a sufficient outline, I progress to deciding the primary qualities of my protagonist. Which of those would have been present at birth? What is the generalized personality of their parents, and what was / is the geographical setting on their home at the time of the protagonist's birth? For instance, one of my characters was born to free peasants on a family-sized farm. The farm was hemmed by timberland, including a grove of bougainvillea. Since my protagonist was born in the spring and her hair is the color of the tree's blossoms, I decided it made sense for her parents to name her after the trees that would have been present at the time. They would do this in their native language, either using root words or what names they knew. I decided they would use a preinvented name that incorporates the root word for bougainvillea. Therefore, my protagonist ended up with a name which roughly translates: "as a cluster of living saffron blooms (especially of the Bougainvillea)". The word specifically used for "cluster of living blooms" doubly suggests beauty. So one could even translate the name as: "one like a beautiful spray of saffron bougainvillea blooms."

    Of course, I fabricated all of this. Infrequently do I have everything set up without a named protagonist at the ready, as my stories are character-focused. So I occasionally do my system backwards, beginning with a made-up name I like the sound of, and inventing a language about it, then a setting and a race for the language, etc. I always try to name my characters consistently.
     
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  10. GeorgeTownRaja

    GeorgeTownRaja New Member

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    What he said earlier, fantasynamegenerators.com.
     
  11. Cirno

    Cirno New Member

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    I'm very much an impulsive sort of writer, and so half the time I really can't be assed to do something especially creative and clever. I'll do my best to come up with something that's memorable and nice looking at the very least, but more often than not I'll use a generator or two and frankenstein the results until I get something that sounds nice.
     
  12. Radrook

    Radrook Banned Contributor

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    Since I am bilingual, I sometimes search into my Spanish vocabulary for ideas. In one of my unpublished novels, I used the name Cerdians for piglike aliens. It is derived from Cerdo, a Spanish word for pigs. Another alien, piglike species in the same novel I named Lechonians because lechon is also a spanish word used for pig.

    I also try spelling words backwards to see how they sound. For example, I named one of the swinelike creatures Gip which is pig spelled backwards.

    BTW

    One thing to keep in mind is, that no matter how original our name might seem, it might have been used before in some prominent novel, short story, movie, or TV show. So it is best to Google the words. I did and was surprized to find some of my choices had already been used.
     
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  13. Cass Parker

    Cass Parker New Member

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    I look at books and pick a first name of and author and then pick the last name of a different author. Some characters come to me with a name already in mind.
     
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  14. sleepindawg

    sleepindawg Member

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    Being a newbie and not having much written I can't say much on the topic. However, The two actual characters that I have so far have names that I came up with in one case by research, and in the other case discussing the nature of the character with a friend.

    "Zacharia Benzo" is a human living in Italy during the 1400s. I researched Italian names from that period and put a name together a name from parts of names that existed there and then.

    "Purrrow" on the other hand is the name of an alien who's race I have yet to name. These aliens look much like earth cats (and I'm sure to at least some is a bit old hat) but they are bipedal and have an advanced culture. I wanted the name to be spelled to "sound" as much as possible like a trilling sound that many of my cats have made. This sound is much like a cross between a purr and a meow and comes off sounding to me a bit inquisitive. This is the one that I worked out with by discussion with a friend, she also happens to like cats, so she knew just the sound I was thinking of when I asked her for advice.

    Yes, I have had more than a few cats over my lifetime, but, I avoid being called the "crazy cat man" by not ever having over 3 cats at a time.

    It looks like I have said a lot of words tor someone who "can't say much on the topic" doesn't it?

    Hoping I added something useful here,
    The dawg
     
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  15. C.D. Beaudin

    C.D. Beaudin New Member

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    I like https://www.fantasynamegenerators.com/. It's got a wide selection of names for different types of genres. I have this website saved in my favourites because I use it almost everyday. Literally there's thousands of names. Real ones and made up ones (though I guess all names are made up). Sometimes I'll skip the website and try different sounds to see if they'd make a good name. Usually I need an existing name, so I can alter it, make it unique (for fantasy usually).

    Names are one of my favourite parts of writing, but also one of the hardest, because a name means a lot. One of my main characters in my trilogy had a name change three times. She was going to be Morgana, then she was going to be Lorica. Finally, I settled on Awyn.
     
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  16. Lolly Inkstain

    Lolly Inkstain Member

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    For my current book, I've listed names I looked up which are typically Chinese, Indian, and African. And have listed English names I like. If I was writing fantasy, I'd go all out with the names. But I know that wouldn't work in my current writing. Which is a shame. So far, two characters are named after my mum and my partner's mum. Another is a name I like which someone I know called their son. Another is similar to my name and is also my friends full name. As I write, I will name the characters. From my list.
     
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  17. Tomb1302

    Tomb1302 Senior Member

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    For my First World War Stories, I've chosen names found across my collective research and experience.

    I collect War Militaria, and, this is where I get my names. I was fortunate enough to find myself a 100 year old 'Military Pass' booklet belonging a German soldier named 'August Rehmert'. I have him included in one of the War Stories I'm working on as a result.

    One way to do it :)
     
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  18. suddenly BANSHEES

    suddenly BANSHEES Senior Member

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    It depends on the story! For something contemporary, I like looking up naming censuses from past decades. Or sometimes I'll start with a surname, and try to find a first name that grooves with it. When I was a kid I cared a lot about meanings of names, but these days not so much.

    For fantasy names, it depends, but I like more flowery, out-of-date names. Or names of plants, animals, or Things that typically aren't used for names. I have a little more fun with fantasy naming, personally.
     
  19. sleepindawg

    sleepindawg Member

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    I just made up seven new character names. In all seven of them had common first names, the surnames for six of them came from a list of uncommon surnames that I found on the web with the last one being a surname that may be entirely fictional (I can't say for certain that it wasn't a name I saw someplace before). The six surnames from the list were chosen for looking like they were made up just to fit the characters.

    EDIT: A for instance of surname picking to fit the character would be the lawyer named 'Crookshanks'.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2019
  20. meisenimverbis

    meisenimverbis Member

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    How do I choose names? It depends. For the fabulae I went with caricature. For the stories though, I --well, I'm working with Romans, so-- I go to (1) family, (2) origin, nation. If he's descendant of Greeks, he has to have a Greek cognomen. Or a Gaul freedman will have a Latinized Gaulish name. Wikipedia helps a lot. You see the family (gens), and the prenames that go with that family. Verisimilitude is important to me. It has to be believable.

    To other stories (or ideas of stories I had), mostly medieval(ish), with less verisimilitude, and some Tolkienish homages, you mix Latin and Elvish for one or the other. Italian names are cool. A few that look like a kind of Czech, a few German names... There was one Spanish hidalgo (a "son of something") who had, naturally, a Spanish name.

    I made some futuristic pieces of stories, once. I tried to think names with some kind of evolutive trace... Not so good, but I had some fun with them. But I'm not much of a sci-fi fellow...
     
  21. Foxxx

    Foxxx The Debonair Contributor

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    It depends on the story.

    For my current story I chose some Biblical names that weren't too archaic, or names with Christian connotations. Sammael, Jack, Lacroix, Father Jude, etc. Morgan is one of the exceptions. But I wouldn't have picked those names if I didn't think they fit well.

    I don't like choosing names that have no meaning in relationship to the character. (They don't have to completely define the character, necessarily. I just like when they're relevant; for one, every time I write their name, it can help me keep in mind a few things about them. I can always ask myself, "What would Jack do?" The non-meme version of "What would Jesus do?")
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2019
  22. badgerjelly

    badgerjelly Contributor Contributor

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    Gingle the Brimstone Snatcher

    Har-urul the Tempterous Massus of Clet

    Eim the Wordsmason

    Arnold Dewithers - Giglio of ‘Little Florence’

    Jerry “Bloody Tooth” McGuire - Pet photographer (specializing in pet costume portraits)

    Mary Ano - Model car collector and part-time waitress, semiprofessional triathlete

    Carlotta Xander - award winning Argentinian architect

    I just made all these up. I guess I go for sounds that fit the kind of person I envision. As I’m writing something set in my own world I have the freedom to pick names that suit both the race and personalities of the characters. They are deadly important to me. Generally speaking I cannot really develop a character without unearthing the correct name for them - if I try to use placeholders the character generally turns out weaker; I need to SEE them and FEEL them, and having a name usually works as a roughly shaped and hewn mound of clay... that sounds so bloody cheesy, but hey! Tis wotitiz ;)

    Titles are nice things to add in too - not that you have to put them in the text, but they function to shape the kind of words to use when describing them and/or that they may use in dialogue.

    Sometimes I do fall prey to a name that doesn’t fit a character simply because I like the name. I’ve had some bizarre morphs overtime (talking 25 years!). For instances one of the main characters was based of a yellow Space Marine painted from the the board game Spacemarine. I painted him gaudy as hell and called him Coco the Clown and made some silly board game up called “Neighbours in Space” based VERY loosely on the infamous Aussie soap opera! Haha! He quickly morphed into something quite, quite sinister and Choa Choa was born.

    I also like looking at random people in the street and wondering what name best suits them.
     
  23. DarkPen14

    DarkPen14 Senior Member

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    Jessie James: Caeleste mage and cursed with the ability to communicate with the dead and be a beacon to ghosts screaming "all you can drain". Originally, her gimmick was that she sucked at life. I wanted her name to be ironic, and oddly enough, the first name of a successful individual that popped into my head was Jesse James, even though I'm pretty sure he wasn't the best. Added an I, since we're dealing with a girl.

    Lillem Weary: Lillem are the daughters of Lillith, and Tieflings are considered demonics. They also have a tendency to take on "virtue" names. Stuck with that to come up with Lillem Weary the half demon spawn.

    Sunnu Wukong: Sun Wukong's name is derived from a few things. Wu means "awaken" and Kong means "monkey/ape". Wukong means "Monkey Awakened to Emptiness". Sun is derived from husun, which means "monkey", and Sun on its own means "grandson", the female form of which is Sunnu, which means "granddaughter". Sunnu is the twelfth generation granddaughter of the Monkey King and the man's heir, so she was renamed in his image.

    Depends on context and state of mind at the time of creation.
     
  24. Saphry

    Saphry Member

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    Sometimes it’s based on what I feel would fit the character’s personality. Sometimes it’s a play of word and spelling of what they represent. E.g. snake lady: serpentine -> Cerpenthea.
     
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  25. sleepindawg

    sleepindawg Member

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    Possibly a furry? Or maybe a furry enabler?
     

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