Naming Characters

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ThinkBlue
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Naming Characters

Post by ThinkBlue » December 14th, 2009, 3:02 pm

I have a hard time continuing with my WIP if I haven't found the perfect name for a character. It bugs me to use an alias (such as referring to an unnamed character as "X")--it just doesn't feel right.

How do you choose first/last names for your characters and where do you find them? Any rules you follow in general when it comes to christening?

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CharleeVale
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Re: Naming Characters

Post by CharleeVale » December 14th, 2009, 3:22 pm

I use baby name websites and books, and I just search until something clicks in my head as being the right one. Or sometimes, as with one of my characters, the name came with her. There was never a question about it.

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SmurfHead
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Re: Naming Characters

Post by SmurfHead » December 14th, 2009, 3:24 pm

Hmm... I've found it helpful to look at census records for popular baby names. If I'm going for a character with a more modern name, I'll pick the years surrounding their birth, but if I'd like something a bit more classic, I'll go back a few decades. Also, my next WIP has a heroine of Persian descent, so I didn't want to name her Jane or Sally. It took me a little while to find the right moniker, something that fit but still felt really modern.

I'm like you--I can't abide calling my characters by "X" or anything like that. I'll see a name that just sort of "feels" right. Hard to explain, but sometimes things just click.

As for last names, those are a lot harder. So much of it depends on the character's imagined background that I'll sometimes do research on specific last names for a particular region. I'm not a big research-junkie, but I always find names to be pretty fun.
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Wryan
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Re: Naming Characters

Post by Wryan » December 14th, 2009, 3:33 pm

For my project, I went straight to the Bible for names. None of the characters are religious, no is there a big Christian theme in the book. But it's set in a world faintly based on Colonial America, and a lot of the names back then (or the names I've encountered in biographies, at least) seem to be Biblical. I've found a lot of good names that are Biblical, and not even boring things like James or John.

My rule is that the name has to fit the feel of the story. I think a character's name can add a lot more to the environment -- imagine if Jack Sparrow or Albus Dumbledore had been called something boring like Walter Jones.

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shadow
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Re: Naming Characters

Post by shadow » December 14th, 2009, 4:02 pm

I mainly use a baby name book or site, and I bought one especially for that (lol), but sometimes when I want a really out-of-this-world unusual and new name I will translate certain meanings into another language. That was really how my MC's name came to and I wouldn't dream of changing it :)
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Nick
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Re: Naming Characters

Post by Nick » December 14th, 2009, 6:33 pm

Names come to me through different means. My current protagonist's first name I've had in mind since I started thinking about the character: Ian. It's usually that way actually, I come up with given names and have issues with surnames. This particular surname came when I saw it on the gate out front of a school while visiting a friend in London. The hilarity of it was too great for me to pass up using for a character some day, and when I tried using it for my protagonist it just fit. Now I couldn't dream of calling him anything but Ian Goodenough.

Generally that's just sort of how it happens for me. I stumble upon something or hear a name and it just feels right. Sometimes, although very rarely, I do search stuff out. I knew I wanted two characters in my WIP to be Irish, but couldn't think of an Irish surname that wasn't overly common and blatantly Irish, so I went online and found a list of Irish surnames and chose one that seemed, to me, to be uncommon and yet I still felt worked for the characters.

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lovelylj
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Re: Naming Characters

Post by lovelylj » December 14th, 2009, 6:56 pm

I use baby name web sites too, it usually helps if you have an attribute in mind for the character. Like if your character is happy and filled with light, you might want to name her Lucy because Lucy means light (according to the baby name site) so you may want to work it that way.

OR, it's more time but you can take a word or another name and change the letters around to make it an anagram.

OR, you can take two halfs of two words to make up one name - you can do this with other languages too, but that also takes time. Or you could just use the one word of the language by itself like Chico means boy, you can have a character named Chico. They're your characters there's no rules, you can do what you want. The anime, Gundam Wing, all of the main characters and even some sub characters are named after numbers in other languages.
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r louis scott
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Re: Naming Characters

Post by r louis scott » December 14th, 2009, 7:39 pm

I sometimes use the names found in my junk email for modern era writing. It is a convenient random name generator.

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polymath
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Re: Naming Characters

Post by polymath » December 14th, 2009, 9:26 pm

I try for names that reflect how I perceive the characters, not too precisely though.

Some names just have qualities that suit a character. Old timey names from the Bible, modern names, nicknames that have become given names, someone from out of the opus of literature. I once upon a time had an acquaintance who's given name is Shakespeare. Cassidy for a reborn beat generation handyman. One of the characters in a flash I named Tercel, but everyone called him Otto--auto. Homonyms have a subliminal quality I like to parallel with a theme or premise. Metonymy and synecdoche for naming too. Red, Tiny, Big Black, Mouth Breather, Wife Beater, Suit, Shorty, Baby Face Nelson, Mr. The Mann, Bombshell Betty.

Some names have youthful resonances, or aging characters with names that reflect past naming traditions.

The U.S. census data on given names and surnames lists: Who's number one? In the U.S. circa 1995, male, James; female, Mary; surname, no surprise, Smith. James and Mary have since passed out of vogue though. Surname ranked number 88789 according to the 1995 last modified census genealogy posting, Aalderink.

http://www.census.gov/genealogy/names/names_files.html
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the_anomaly
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Re: Naming Characters

Post by the_anomaly » December 15th, 2009, 2:41 am

This is my absolute favorite website for names:

http://www.20000-names.com/

You can search by nationality, but there are also special categories for names like dragon names or blood names or dark names or moon names. It's not the most comprehensive list you can find, but it does a stellar job regardless.

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Re: Naming Characters

Post by Kaitlyne » December 15th, 2009, 7:10 am

My last MC came with a last name (which he uses as a first name, basically), and I had to figure out the first. I knew the sound I wanted, though, and had it narrowed down to two from pretty much the beginning, though. Two of the other characters came pre-named. Generally, though, I have a feeling of the style name I want and the sound I'm going for, then just have to find the name that matches. That's mostly true for first names only. I don't really care as much about last names and just pull out a list of common last names and find something that sounds good together (or bad, depending on what I'm going for lol).

I once had a character who chose aliases based on meaning, which was probably the most difficult naming I've had to do because I had to find names that actually fit his personality and sense of humor.

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Re: Naming Characters

Post by casnow » December 15th, 2009, 8:43 am

I think choosing names is a lot easier if you are writing something modern, and serious. If you are writing comedy or somethign that took place long ago or in a place far away, it is hard to avoid stereotypes. Since I'm writing modern america stuff, I like Matts, marks, lukes, and johns... so i guess i'm not very creative.

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ElisabethMoore
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Re: Naming Characters

Post by ElisabethMoore » December 15th, 2009, 12:12 pm

I've nothing helpful to add to the discussion here; I use random name generators and click refresh over and over until something strikes me, often not something the generator came up with.

However, there is a very funny story about this titled "The Angst of Hero Naming" here: http://www.lazette.net/FreeStuff/angst.htm
If you like that, I think Zette's "Author versus Character" (the Woodle Poove story) is even funnier: http://zette.blogspot.com/2005/10/autho ... acter.html

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Nathan Bransford
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Re: Naming Characters

Post by Nathan Bransford » December 15th, 2009, 8:47 pm

polymath wrote:I try for names that reflect how I perceive the characters, not too precisely though.

Some names just have qualities that suit a character. Old timey names from the Bible, modern names, nicknames that have become given names, someone from out of the opus of literature. I once upon a time had an acquaintance who's given name is Shakespeare. Cassidy for a reborn beat generation handyman. One of the characters in a flash I named Tercel, but everyone called him Otto--auto. Homonyms have a subliminal quality I like to parallel with a theme or premise. Metonymy and synecdoche for naming too. Red, Tiny, Big Black, Mouth Breather, Wife Beater, Suit, Shorty, Baby Face Nelson, Mr. The Mann, Bombshell Betty.

Some names have youthful resonances, or aging characters with names that reflect past naming traditions.

The U.S. census data on given names and surnames lists: Who's number one? In the U.S. circa 1995, male, James; female, Mary; surname, no surprise, Smith. James and Mary have since passed out of vogue though. Surname ranked number 88789 according to the 1995 last modified census genealogy posting, Aalderink.

http://www.census.gov/genealogy/names/names_files.html
Love the Census list for finding name inspiration.

When naming Jacob Wonderbar, I first knew I wanted to call him Jacob, but then my wife suggested I name him after my favorite coffee drink at Philz, a coffee place down the street from my apartment: Jacob's Wonderbar Brew. So I ended up naming him Jacob Wonderbar.

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Re: Naming Characters

Post by Calliopenjo » December 15th, 2009, 9:01 pm

http://www.20000-names.com/index.htm
http://babynamesworld.parentsconnect.com/
http://www.babynames.com.au/search-main.htm
http://www.behindthename.com/
http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/

Above are sites I use most often. Depending on the theme of the story is what category I choose. Ex: Shakespeare, Arthurian, Queen, Literary, etc. Then I scroll through reading the meaning of each name until "Ah Ha. That's it." For me it helps in creating my character's personality.

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