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sommemi
09-22-2009, 12:14 AM
Is there a thread on this???!?! URGH! I'm so not used to this... all of my previous writing is mostly very very short fiction stories (not always needing names) or memoirs. Now all of a sudden I have this story that I wrote ages ago that I'm rewriting for practice and all of a sudden it is turning into something much much bigger all on its own... and I have no idea what to name the people in it! I can't keep track of them without naming them and unless I name them I don't know who I'm referring to.... but I kinda feel like just naming people "Jane" and "Bob" for now isn't going to cut it. I mean, it's only 6 characters right now, but it's still hard to write without names. Maybe I just put too much weight in a name... ??

Do your characters kinda just 'create' their own names, or have you done research on like, baby name websites to figure out their names? Or do you base their names off of their personality? Have you ever typed up an entire story and not known the characters name until after you were done? Did you ever write it and then change the name at the end?

:flag: I honestly didn't think I'd be this perplexed about a fictional character. I think I had an easier time picking out my kids names. :Shrug:

(feel free to move this if there is another place for it... or tell me where it already is!)

Red-Green
09-22-2009, 01:18 AM
Typically, my characters' parents name them. I don't say that to be snarky, but to say: think about who your character is, who raised them and how. Names shape people, as do their caregivers. So you might have a character with very religious parents who named him Ezekial. And it may absolutely not suit his character, because that's how it works.

Now nicknames are a whole other thing and the juxtaposition between what a character's parents named him and the name he goes by can tell a reader a lot about him. So I've got a character who is named after his father and the people he grew up around call him Junior, but it really annoys him. When he introduces himself to people he uses a different name, but the Junior thing still follows him around.

Oh, but when it comes to actually figuring out the character's name, the US Census website has great info on what were the most popular names in any given year. Then you ask yourself--how likely were my character's parents to have named him a popular name? Or did the purposefully choose something unusual or more traditional?

Linda Adams
09-22-2009, 01:41 AM
I tend to run high on the character counts in mine--I have 25 total characters, and that doesn't include the characters I dropped, which is probably another 25. I remember, I used to labor over a baby book, writing down ten names and narrowing it down, just to get the right now. Now, with so many characters, I just hop on the Internet, hit a site to search and pick a name--all in about five minutes. The sites I've used in a baby names site, the Social Security site, the Internet Movie Database, and the Navy Web site (they have a very long list of all their admirals). I've also used my family's geneaology for some of the names).

And I have changed some of the names. My antagonist's name took a while to settle down, and I changed it three times. I also realized that I'd named characters Jerry, Jack, Gene, and James, so I had to change three of the names.

I keep track of all the names in an information sheet. I list all the characters in alphabetical order by last name, accompanied by details like descriptions and backstory. This has been very handy since there's one name (from my family history) that I have a lot of trouble spelling. Before the information sheet, I'd have to jump back and find the last instance of it; now I just have the printed sheet to look at.

Judg
09-22-2009, 01:45 AM
I'm afraid I don't agonize. I made up a list of names that were culturally appropriate and when a new character popped up in the story, I looked at the list and picked one that seemed to fit. Or in some cases, that didn't fit because I liked the juxtaposition.

maestrowork
09-22-2009, 01:49 AM
Typically, my characters' parents name them. I don't say that to be snarky, but to say: think about who your character is, who raised them and how.

That's why I approach this. It irks me sometimes when writers pick their names because "they fit the character..." In real life, that is the way names work. People name their CHILDREN based on their preferences, cultural/social backgrounds, their expectations (or the lack of), etc. etc. Sometimes names do match the person, but quite often they don't. Gabriel may turn out to be a serial killer -- and that's fun. No parents call their (soon to be evil kid) Lucifer. (That's not to say "expectations" don't manifest into actual upbringing that molds the character... but that's another layer of this naming thing: the "how they were raised" part)

The exception would be nicknames -- a character could name themselves, or their friends nickname them based on their personalities or traits, so that's legit. But as far as given names are concerned, they're called "given" for a reason. And the writer is NOT the character's parents.

For example, Voldemort is a chosen name, not given. His given name is Tom. A very innocent, normal name. Draco Malfoy, on the other hand, is a name given by his ambitious, evil father. So the name "Draco" means something to Lucius.

Sylar's (in Heroes) real name is Gabriel, by the way. ;)

kct webber
09-22-2009, 03:44 AM
I don't agonize about names, other than to give the character a name that fits the culture and time and to make sure they're not too similar. And yes, I've written an entire novel with "working names" then changed some names at the end. A felt like a couple names were too close to each other in appearance. From interviewing betas, I've found that once the reader has been introduced to a character, he tends to skim names, just seeing enough of it to ID the character. So I try to avoid names that are too similar or that start with the same letter.

Here's the SSA website (http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames/)that allows you to search common names by year, and a few other cool things.

Aquarius
09-22-2009, 05:03 AM
I used to practically pull my hair out worrying about names, until it finally sunk in that it wasn't that big of a deal. Whatever I may have chosen could easily been changed during edits if I honestly couldn't stand it.

Now, I just use a combo of baby name books/websites and character personalities to settle on names. I know my tastes usually extend to the old school (Genevieve, Isabelle, Tobias, etc) as well as the exotic (Lycoris, Xaviera, Aries, etc) so I just use that as a general starting point.

popmuze
09-22-2009, 05:22 AM
One of my favorite character names is Selena Spry. I got that from two towns in Wyoming. Or was it Montana?

ishtar'sgate
09-22-2009, 05:33 AM
Do your characters kinda just 'create' their own names, or have you done research on like, baby name websites to figure out their names? Or do you base their names off of their personality? Have you ever typed up an entire story and not known the characters name until after you were done? Did you ever write it and then change the name at the end?


Their names come from the character building work I do before I start to write. I give them histories, desires, fears etc and the names develop from who they turn out to be.

MsGneiss
09-22-2009, 06:46 AM
I'm afraid I don't agonize. I made up a list of names that were culturally appropriate and when a new character popped up in the story, I looked at the list and picked one that seemed to fit. Or in some cases, that didn't fit because I liked the juxtaposition.

Precisely that. I try to keep all the names culturally and historically appropriate. I usually avoid telling a story through a name. Although, I think it is possible to accomplish some degree of symbolism through names (but I wouldn't know how to do it without sounding campy and trite).

Kenzie
09-22-2009, 07:04 AM
It varies. Some names just spring to mind instantly, others I've considered and made a choice, usually based on things others have pointed out - cultural/social influences, and possible meanings. From memory, my protagonist's name came to me very easily, and I then invented her parents' reasoning behind the name (in this case, she is named Audrey and her mother was thinking naturally of Audrey Hepburn. As Maestrowork pointed out, the name a parent will choose will often not fit the person - her mother hoped to have a daughter who was graceful, beautiful, iconic. My protagonist is actually plain, shy, wallflower material. This says something about the character herself as well as the character of the mother). My antagonist, on the other hand, took a bit more thought to name. I wanted something vaguely foreign but not unusual, something strong. I looked at a few naming sites and made a shortlist, and then chose Kristian, the Scandinavian form of Christian. This is a common name for Danish kings and my Kristian is very much a leader. He is also not actually a Christian, or religious in any way, but he is completely dogmatic about his political beliefs. So there is a parallel there too.

AZ_Dawn
09-22-2009, 07:46 AM
Varies for me, too. For example, some of my pirates got their nicknames first and then their legal names, and at least one MC's name came from a random generator.

Even though I'm writing cheese, I avoid "meaningful" given names like mad. To me, their just a few steps away from bad puns, and that's not the kind of cheese I'm going for. (Besides, if I did use 'em, one character would be a basketweaver with a foot fetish :eek:) I also avoid ironic names for much the same reason. Naming the emo kid Joy is as bad as naming the cockeyed optimist Hope.

blacbird
09-22-2009, 08:20 AM
This is one of those craft areas that seems easier for some people than for others. I don't know why. It's never caused me much trouble, except in one instance where I decided one surname in a story (Maxwell) was too close to another (Mathes). Maxwell became Barnes in a microsecond.

For some reason, good names seem to come easy to me, often in odd ways. Just the other night I had a dream in which a street in Boston (where my son resides) was named "Lawrence Bandy Avenue", and I couldn't locate the damn thing. As far as I know, there is no "Lawrence Bandy Avenue" in Boston, nor have I ever heard of a person named Lawrence Bandy. Damn subconscious anyway.

But I just might have to use that name now in a story.

caw

cscarlet
09-22-2009, 09:24 AM
I love picking names early - along with writing their descriptions. It helps me think of them as real people as opposed to "characters in my book."

I do look at baby names (by origin based on their history/culture/etc, and how the name "feels" when I refer to my character with it).

And then sometimes I just have names that I made up somewhere and love/can't shake (like my MC).

When scanning through possibilities, I usually come across something that just... "fits". I can't explain it, but all of a sudden they don't feel forced.

Then, voila!

Name. :)

Chauchat Butterfly
09-22-2009, 09:27 AM
I usually just let character names appear on their own without any real searching. I used to flip through baby name books and sometimes I still do if I'm having trouble or if a character has remained nameless for too long. Someties I give my characters referential names, not necessarily symbolic, but they do have some intrinsic meaning to them.

I have recieved names from dreams and they are always rediculous (ex. a female character named 'Denmark,' a male character named 'Nazareth') but much of the time, as in those two cases, they come with a character attatched and I decide to use them in some way.

Lat names are much harder for me to come up with than first names and I will sometimes go through a number of last names before I find the right one; whereas it's only occasionally in the case of first names.

Nicknames are a whole other story. They usually come about the same way as regular names and many times before the characters real moniker, and are generally bizarre and sometimes hard to reconcile, in which case I usually drop them.

I have two characters that I'm working with right now nicknamed Snowflake and Sable. They're both human and fairly serious characters, and while I know I should probably drop those nicknames, part of me wants to keep them, despite their being somewhat nonsensical.

Exir
09-22-2009, 09:34 AM
In the current WIP I'm working on, there's an orphaned girl who is living in a foster home.

At first I wanted to call her Clementine. But Clementine immediately brings to mind a well-to-do, well-educated family. If she came from a well-to-do family, she'd probably live with a relative instead of being placed in a foster home. Sure, there's nothing wrong with a lower-class family naming their daughter Clementine, but on such things like names it's better to confirm than to break the mold (save that for other stuff). (Associations with Kate Winslet in spiky purple hair isn't helping its case either.)

So I settled on Bev, short for Beverly. The character insists very strongly on the former. I know that is a bit cliche, but there is a difference between an Elizabeth who doesn't like her pompous name and insists on Liz, and a Beverly who insists on Bev when both names sound pretty much the same -- they're both ordinary, homely names. So immediately there is a wistfulness to it: perhaps the girl very strongly wants to dissociate herself from something?

Now that I decided on Bev, I had to choose a last name. Since Bev is quite ordinary, it would be alright to choose a more unusual last name. I decided I wanted something eastern European -- something Slavic, perhaps Polish. It is very likely this Bev is going to be from an immigrant/minority family (perhaps a very small family that has been in America for a few generations but part of a sizable community that hasn't quite integrated), hence being lower-class and having no relatives to go to once being orphaned.

If that's the case, her parents would know English pretty well, but would be less knowledgeable about the culture -- which would explain her having an average sounding name. Such an upbringing would explain part of the loneliness Bev feels (in addition to being an orphan). Another characterization moment.

I Goggled a list of Polish last names. Again, I wanted nothing pompous, and since choosing a last name from a foreign language automatically tips the balance towards that side, I decided to choose a cutesy sounding last name. Something only two syllables and easy to pronounce, without any of the "-ski"s and "-wicz"s. Browsing the list, "Minko" caught my eye. Nice. Cutesy.

I checked up the origin of the last name. Apparently it could be a diminutive of Dominik. So even in Polish it has a connotation of being a cutesy nickname. Nice.

Minko also sounds funny. She's likely be teased about it. Another (if cliched) characterization moment.

And Bev Minko sounds like a name of a harmless, shy girl. And it turns out she's not exactly harmless and friendly, but her heart's in the right place and she genuinely cares about people, so it's a partial subversion.

Does the name really matter that much? If I called the character Clementine Blanton, how big of a difference does it make? Objectively, probably very little. I could write the story with Bev Minko and then use a global search-and-replace to change it to Clementine Blanton, and the reader won't tell any difference. But in constructing the name, I have thought about the character's upbringing, her cultural influence (however slight), and how her peers have likely treated her. It really helped me see her clearly.

Ken
09-22-2009, 02:28 PM
... depends on the genre to some extent, too. If you're writing a comic or fable-like novel like ones by Dickens, naming characters in accordance with some characteristic is fine and even expected to some extent; e.g. Superman, Tess Trueheart, Scrooge.

maestrowork
09-22-2009, 03:33 PM
I have no trouble naming the MCs. But the secondary and minor characters... because there are many of them, and I don't want to be repetitive and confusing (thus they should be relatively easy to remember). Also, since they are minor/secondary, their names either are NOT that important in the scheme of things, or they should give immediate impression.

popmuze
09-22-2009, 05:11 PM
I think a lot of people here are overthinking the name thing. I think the character becomes the name, rather than vice-versa.
In my latest book, the main character is named Sonny, who has always hated that name, describing it as symbolic of his parents' lack of commitment to parenthood. Then he meets a guy named Skip.

sommemi
09-22-2009, 05:24 PM
Wow - Thank you all so much for your responses!!! You have all given me much to think about... unfortunately. LOL

I DID consider the simplicity of just giving a name, because if you work too hard on a complicated name, then the character becomes about the name, not the personality itself. I realized that if I spent too long worrying about a meaningful name, then I started pinholing that person into the role of that name and it didn't give me as much freedom to let my character just.... be.

On the other hand, I think a little bit of thought should go into it otherwise it's going to get very boring just reading a story about Bob, Will, Jane, Missy, Heather, and John. No matter how culturally appropriate those names might be. I think I like the advice of considering what the parents would name them as opposed to what they would like their name to be. And then give them 'appropriate' nicknames. Yeah. I think that's good. Maybe even use their middle name instead of their first name if they don't like their first name.

OOOOH! I think I just got a good idea for the name of the 'intro' character! YAY. :)

Thanks everyone!!!

sommemi
09-22-2009, 05:25 PM
I think a lot of people here are overthinking the name thing. I think the character becomes the name, rather than vice-versa.
In my latest book, the main character is named Sonny, who has always hated that name, describing it as symbolic of his parents' lack of commitment to parenthood. Then he meets a guy named Skip.


*giggles* "Hi Sonny... my name is Skip".
That's a riot. I don't know if you meant it to be that way, but I think it's awesome.

sommemi
09-22-2009, 05:28 PM
Oh - forgot to add...

LAST NAMES - ironically, this I didn't have any trouble with. I kind of had a certain family structure in mind going into this story, so I just looked up a list of last names that started with the same letter as the family I was thinking of... and ended up with the luckiest break in the world.

I found a last name that had a 'meaning' that was very significant (emotionally, religiously, etc) to the MC's family.... so therefore that became the Mother's family name. Then I used another name that had meaning (same last initial) relative to that name for the Father's family (they are divorced). I found both names on the same page within seconds of each other. It was just too perfect not to use.

And what I like most about it... is that I'll never mention the meaning of the names in the book. I have no clue if anyone will ever catch the little hint of it in the book, but to me, it makes it more exciting to write having known the meaning and culture behind the names. ;)

GeorgieB
09-22-2009, 06:22 PM
I have a WIP that will have a "cast of thousands" (close, anyway) and I need a lot of names. One of my sources is the spam folder at my gmail account. Lots of names there, and it's only fair play (right?) to use them as antagonists or lesser beings in my writing.

Another source is the logo that's displayed when one of the most popular photo editing programs starts (name of program not mentioned for fear of lawyerly reprisals). I grab a first name here, last name there, sometimes switching one for the other.

The WIP is SF, future, so the strangeness of the names helps set the mood. Once the WIP is in edit, I'll change where necessary and when the muse says "no."

popmuze
09-23-2009, 12:32 AM
*giggles* "Hi Sonny... my name is Skip".
That's a riot. I don't know if you meant it to be that way, but I think it's awesome.


If it's funny, then I definitely meant it to be that way.

As far as last names, lately I've been using the last names of my personal friends a lot. It's great when you've got a few inside jokes going.

sommemi
09-23-2009, 05:24 PM
One of my sources is the spam folder at my gmail account. Lots of names there, and it's only fair play (right?) to use them as antagonists or lesser beings in my writing.


Oh my gosh! That's awesome! PERFECT source of names for 'lesser' beings. lmao

Claudia Gray
09-23-2009, 06:52 PM
I, too, try to think of what the parents would have named this child. Also, it's worth paying attention to having some diversity of sounds/name types among all the characters in the story. It really bothers me when all the names in a book sound alike -- either equally fanciful or equally ordinary -- when it's far more natural to have both common names and unusual ones among any given group.

AXavierB
09-24-2009, 09:53 AM
I usually go through lists of baby names on different websites and pick out names that sound nice. I know it's unrealistic, but I just can't bring myself to give a character a name I don't like at all.

Zoombie
09-24-2009, 10:06 AM
I name my character's sadistically and with a hint of whimsy.

Daniel D. Danton is my main character, Gitta the Guardian Angel is another, and Tybalt the flamboyantly gay closet unicorn is a third!

Exir
09-24-2009, 10:12 AM
I, too, try to think of what the parents would have named this child. Also, it's worth paying attention to having some diversity of sounds/name types among all the characters in the story. It really bothers me when all the names in a book sound alike -- either equally fanciful or equally ordinary -- when it's far more natural to have both common names and unusual ones among any given group.

This. I usually try to pair unusual first names with familiar last names and vice versa, and also have some characters with common names and some with unusual ones.

A good example is Harry Potter. There's Harry, there's Ron, there's Fred and George, there's Tom Riddle, and then there's Hermione, Draco, Ginevra, Lucius, etc.

fringle
09-24-2009, 01:28 PM
My characters seem to come with their names already, the main characters anyway. I do have to search out names for secondary characters, however. I am not of fan of trendy names or funky spellings, so I don't tend to use them. And, I try to keep a balance of longer and shorter names and I avoid names that are too similar to one another.

Uzumaki
09-25-2009, 01:42 AM
One of the things I do wholly unintentionally is giving everyone themed names. I like to think they're cool themes, though, since I hate it when parents give all their kids names that start with the same letter. So boring. So I have a high school populated with characters named after herbs and spices (Saffron, Tansy, Anise, Selim, etc.), a military fantasy where many of the characters' names have to do with the sky or related phenomena (Diana, Ciel, Meredien, Iris), and a scifi where all the characters are named after hypergiant stars (actually still getting help on this one. How do you say "keel" in Quechua? ;)). I think it comes from having a boring name in real life.

kayleamay
09-26-2009, 04:31 PM
I use the phone book most of the time, but when I hear a name that has a certain ring to it (as in fits with a certain age group or is just odd or whatnot) I scribble it down for later use. Ex: last week I met a smiling man named Courage, a little old lady in a big wig named Amerina Patina and a chubby little boy named Churchill...all went in my handy-dandy notebook.

sommemi
09-28-2009, 09:20 PM
You know, I'm glad I started this thread... even though I might not use some of the same methods, it's really fun to hear how everyone has come up with their characters names! Thanks a lot for sharing everyone!!! :)

Stijn Hommes
09-29-2009, 02:47 PM
I rarely have trouble naming characters. They often come fully formed from my make-believe town of characters. Other times I use names I've heard and combine them with other names. I knew pretty much instantly I wanted to name the MC in my current WIP Quinn, but I'm not sure whether to make his last name Harris or to keep looking.

I can remember only one instance where I chose to give a character's name symbolic meaning on purpose -- in a short story to give it a little more depth without wasting words.

At the end of the day, names can be changed, so as long as you have a name to work with along the way, everything is peachy.

Pepper
09-29-2009, 03:28 PM
My main character goes by his surname for most of the book because he feels his first name is a lie (the general association of that particular name, that is).

I have a few rules when it comes to picking names:

- a character's name can't start with the same letter as another character's name (eg. Jack & Jessica)

- a main character's name (and any other character if possible) can't have the same number of syllables or sound similar to another main character's name (eg. Dane & Caine, Jay & Faye, Julian & Julianna, etc)

- a character's name must be easy to pronounce. If the reader has to read over a name a dozen times just to figure out how it might be pronounced, that's a failure.

- no cheesiness. Max Power isn't a name, it's a laundry detergent. If a name screams hero, heroine or bad-guy, I'll try like hell not to use it.

- Try to stay away from names that have been overdone. This may change depending on which genre you're writing, but it's fairly safe to say that "Jack" has been overdone in every genre.


Keeping these personal rules in mind, I'll hop on over to a baby names website like www.babyhold.com or www.babynames.com. I generally don't spend a whole lot of time searching. I'll scroll through the list quickly and jot down any names that catch my eye on my notepad. After I have a handful of names, I'll go through the list and recheck the names against my rules and pick one.

Remember, try not to stress endlessly whether a name will or will not suit the character you have in mind. Pick a name that you think will do the job. If you have doubts, they will almost always go away. Like a pair of new shoes, the name might take a little while to get completely comfortable- it just takes a little bit of use. The name will perfectly suit your character once you've gotten to know them by that name (which is also why I happen to dislike using placeholder names- I don't want to grow accustomed to my character's name being 'Bob').

And, if by the end of your story, you feel like it still doesn't fit, you can always change it. It's in your power as a writer. ;)

I used to stress like crazy over names, but then I realised what a huge time waster that was. :D

EDIT: Oh, movie credits seem like a good place to hook surnames, by the way. ^_^

kaitie
09-29-2009, 03:56 PM
I like to put a Daniel in every story I write. :tongue. There's really no good reason for it, other than when I first started it seemed like every story had a Daniel in some way shape or form. Now it's just become something of an in joke.

Though in all seriousness, I agree mostly with Pepper. I have a completely boring name so I used to enjoy giving characters cool ones, but I grew out of that a few years ago. A lot of my characters come pre-named, the ones that don't I tend to have an idea of the type of sound I want, and then it's just a matter of finding the right one.

The only thing I disagree with is overusing a name. The only time I'd say this is likely is if it's an unusual name that has become recently popular or catchy. Avoid soap opera names. But if a name is really common then I see no problem with using it because it won't stand out. I'd say it's better to err on the side of too common than too unusual.

KTC
09-29-2009, 04:01 PM
My characters almost always come to me with names. There is only one instance I can think of where I actually researched a name. I wanted the mother to pick the child's name for a reason...so I found a name that meant what she wanted it to mean. That's about the only time I ever researched a name.

citymouse
09-29-2009, 04:53 PM
I have a confession to make. I'm lazy. In my trilogy my two MCs names are short (three letters) because they are easy to type. It didn't take long to realize that not every character could be named Biff and Buff and so I learned how to make macros in MSWord. It's very easy. I then entered all my characters names in the numbered key pads. Now when I need a name it's one key stroke away.

I also use online naming sites for common names, especially non-English names.

C

Lyra Jean
09-29-2009, 05:36 PM
I use a random name generator for first names and a list of common surnames for last names. But I have a large list of characters and I can't really quibble over names, otherwise, with the way I work, I'll never get anything done.

Of course, I'm not a slave to the generator. If I come up with a first or last name that I like then I'm going to use it. I also feel free to change any name I want.

Nivarion
09-30-2009, 07:16 AM
This is the only site I use for naming in my WIP. Its a fantasy so it fits.

http://www.rinkworks.com/namegen/

I've got desktop links to it I use it so much. Its even better than most because you can program it to give you specific name styles.