View Full Version : How original are you..?

12-18-2006, 11:13 AM

I was sitting here tonight with a very good friend of mine, a AD&D DM who helps work out some of the flaws of my world, and we got discussing names.

At this point, I should tell you that at some subconscious level, I have used names from video games. (NO Legoas, Drizzt, Aragorn, etc etc) I can honestly say it wasn't my intention of doing this...but rather one day I was reading these names and started to somewhat recognize them. (Stormwind Keep (me) / City of Stormwind (World of Warcraft), Anduin of Arloc (me) / Anduin Lightbringer (Warcraft I), City of Aresleigh (me) / Eresleigh Castle (Dark Age of Camelot))

Saying all of that, we got in this huge...and I mean HUGE discussion about originality. Obviously, I feel kinda dumb for using similar names, but I am not exactly sure how using something like a name generator is exactly original either. Isn't the story and the way its told, make something original?

I mean I have heard countless different approaches to making names, towns, river, mountains, etc etc...but they all seem no better then what I did.

For example, there was a post here several months back, that said if you want to be original - twist current words. Uh, not original...at all. I mean seriously, if a person does this...taking words that exist and alteroing them into names, I just don't see this as original at all. I do this btw.

There was also mention of name generators. Once again - in no way shape or form, is this original. I mean zero. If I go to a program...and it tells me names...then how original is that? I do this too.

That leaves making up your own names, which I also do. At the cost of sounding goofy...most made up on the spot names either mask RL names or severely lack proper annunciation mechanics to make them sound anything more than poorly made up names. I do this too.

So...you tell me. Am I looking at this all wrong? Or, does the personality of my own characters make them different enough to disregard the name? Or, should I just hack my way to all new 'original' names using a RG?


12-18-2006, 01:15 PM
I've noticed two of my characters shared names with NPCs from Morrowind, although in one of those cases it was a story I wrote before I ever played an Elder Scrolls game.

I often find haunting similarity between stories I wrote and stories I am reading for the first time (after having already written something with a similar premise or main character).

It's not too egregious to have names sound similar, I would imagine. There are plenty of instances of names sounding like real names. I'm sure there are at least a couple of Alan Grants out there (Jurassic Park) and the hero of Star Wars didn't have an outstandingly original first name (nor should he have, names don't make the story).

For my current work, nearly all of the major characters have common names: Devon Carter, Sarah Meyer, Trent Holden, Chris Donovan, Lin Sato. This novel being about dinosaurs, most of the non-human characters have names based on geological or historical terms like Shalondur (based on shale) or Gallic (an epoch in the late Mesozoic).

I guess I just don't think naming is as big of a deal as most other parts of writing are. Description worries me more than anything else. Some writers just drip elegance onto the page seemingly without effort, and I can't do that, which almost invariably results in me relying too much on dialogue as a crutch. I also tend to get into ruts where I do nothing but narrate what's happening, leaving no room for characters to express themselves.

Anyway, hope you don't worry too much about the names thing. It shouldn't be a problem. A name can be changed with a simple search and replace if it really comes to that.

12-18-2006, 05:39 PM
Create your own names. Originality isn't in the name you create, but in the characters who go with those names. If the characters are good, if the characters are original, whatever name you use will take on a life of its own.

If the characters are bad, if the characters are clones, if the characters are cardboard, or if the characters are unoriginal, it won't matter a bit what you name them, no one will want to know them.

12-18-2006, 06:14 PM
I am decidedly unoriginal in naming my characters:


are names of major characters in my stories. Of course, they also tend to be generic enough (except for Ares, whose name is pretty much
a joke) that I doubt too many people will see them as obvious rip-offs. :)

David McAfee
12-18-2006, 07:07 PM
I dunno how original my names are. I just give characters names that feel right. Sometimes they are pretty ordinary. Of my two projects, here are some of the names:

Vincent Walker (MC)
Raine Winters
Joel Kagan
Carl Sanders
Carlton Maize
Antonio Bandallio
Arthur Danier

The Last War
Hiram Kessler
Salvadore Petti (MC)
Marcus Fielding
Ellis Black
Neville Parker
Jonas Brashear

12-18-2006, 07:14 PM
I use names of family members, friends & students, but I rarely use their first and last together. My MC's friend's are Bill and Janet (my paternal grandparents. One character is Imogene Washburn, named for a former student E**** Washburn. I changed the first name to Imogene because I wanted a name that would work for a 90+ year old.

Or, you could follow my son's lead: If he has a toy fashioned after a character he doesn't recognize, he calls it Uddah. If Uddah is already taken within that particular plastic community, the second choice is Eeegee. Four year old's make great consultants in this line of work.

12-18-2006, 07:52 PM
I doubt that it can truly be avoided but it is good to be conscious of the fact when you are naming things. I read a lot of fantasy and now and then I have come across names that bear resemblance to names I have chosen for some of my works, but that is one the inevitable things you encounter when writing. Though at some point you have to step back and examine where your "inspiration" is originating. Take Eragon and Aragorn - phonetically similar but wholly different characters. So i guess, yes to some degree you can have the same names as other established characters and still write them completely different. I have a feeling that this is perhaps the messier approach.

If you're concerned about coming up with original names, I would suggest working from real or historical names and creating phonetic variants on them. You might be surprised with what you come up with.

12-18-2006, 09:51 PM
Originality is not really something we get to choose. Only other people get to tell us if we are original.

The method of creating an original name is not where originality comes into play. There exist only so many ways of inventing names (or borrowing...) and all of them have been used and abused by parent for at least the last 40,000 years of human history.

If your audience finds your result to be original and fresh, then you are original and fresh.

12-18-2006, 10:10 PM
I never had this sort of resource when I started writing, but today, when I create a new character name, I google it.

Under 100,000 hits means I've hit something unique enough that I don't care if someone has already come with it before.

For myself, when I'm doing fantasy, I spend just a little time coming up with basic rules for any particular language. Nothing so Tolkienian as full etymologys, but things like "Tel" means city or people (in my fantasy world, the largest human nation is Tel Adur. Smaller towns might be Tel Son or Tel Keldur)

For names, I look for cool syllable connections. Kreegan. Threston. Chukrah. Opty Moo Foo.

Listen, when the Sword of Shannarra gave a wizard the Spouses-of-Alcoholics-Support-Group acronym as a name... All bets were off. Name your characters whatever the hell you want.

12-18-2006, 10:18 PM
I think it is more important that the name fits the character, than the originality of the name itself. If the name Bob fits the character, so be it. As long as your characters are original (or at least not wooden), I don't think readers will care if John Smith did this, or Jane Smith did that.

12-18-2006, 10:59 PM
Well it is good that I seem to be on the right track. My friend argues that all names must be original names (RG, on spot created, etc) for him to move forward.

To me, it is the personality of the character that makes them unique, which seems to be what everyone is saying here. I mean, if I named a character Losh Vader.....and it was identical to the 'character' of Darth Vader then there's a problem. However, if the only thing that resembles a different character is their name, and only their name, then I don't see the problem.

12-19-2006, 12:35 AM
I have a villain named Lord Stan, who is so evil and hateful because his name was supposed to be Satan but there was a mistake on his birth certificate.

12-19-2006, 12:37 AM
Also, and I hate pointing this out, but even the RPGs steal their stuff. You claimed Anduin was from WoW... But the Anduin is a river in Tolkien's Middle Earth.

Everyone borrows, everyone steals. Hell, Tolkien stole many of his names from earlier works himself.

12-19-2006, 12:46 AM
Dclary, it's only stealing if you get sued for copyright infringement. If you don't get sued, it's called "referencing" or "an homage".

12-19-2006, 01:02 AM
I know. I didn't mean it as "steal" but as "steal." You get my drift. I think most writers who end up using a name that someone else did do so entirely unintentionally. The names are in our subconscious and if they resonate, we feel it.

And like others have said... the basic elements of what makes a great story was already analyzed and broken down before the first Christmas... so it's not like anyone's bringing ANYTHING new to the table. It's all in the telling.

12-19-2006, 04:38 AM
Dclary, it's only stealing if you get sued for copyright infringement. If you don't get sued, it's called "referencing" or "an homage".

Mpst agents ad editors don't call it stealing, but they don't call it paying homage, either. They usually call it "copycatting," and it's a big turn off.

12-19-2006, 07:43 AM
Well, lessee. In my fantasy WIP, the main characters are Jasith, Irda, Geir, and Jory. As for "referencing" or "an homage," when I wrote those three pulp parodies (with the intention of packing as many SF references into them as I could) I used descriptions but no names. I had one hell of a time finding a name for my main (original) character. I checked everything with Google, and finally wound up with Sherilyn Spycer -- the surname being sort of "spacer" in Cockney combined with "spice" for the mildly sexy situations and dialog. While I was Googling, it occurred to me that twenty years ago the situation wouldn't have arisen because I'd be blissfully unaware that someone else had used a certain name. Now that the search tool exists, I feel morally bound to use it -- frustrating though it is.

Samuel Dark
12-22-2006, 06:46 AM
I think originality has more to do with the story and it's elements, then with names. And, even there it can ve hard to do sometimes. My trilogy was and still is in someways "cliche", and I didn't even mean to do it that way -- it just happens. How many authors are there every year? And not just published ones, either. How many stories do these writers put out every year? Times that by at least 2000, and you'll see just how hard it is to be "original"....

12-22-2006, 11:32 PM
Something I tend to do with my characters is take somewhat common names (but not too common, like Sarah or Dan) but then change up the spelling a bit so that it is recognizable as the original name, but unique in its own way.

For example (and these are people I personally know so, yes, these are actual names even though some don't appear that way)

Kalyssa. I turned this into Kalissa.
Roman. A normal, common name, of course, but I've changed it to Wrohman, so it gives a completely different twist on the name, but still obtains correct pronunciation.
Arianna. Only too basic. I've changed it to Eiryana.

It serves its purpose for me. I still feel like my character names are original, even though you hear them all the time.

12-23-2006, 12:10 AM
I create original names. They just pop into my head. And I'd tell ya'll what they are, but I'm afraid you'll steal them. :tongue

12-23-2006, 08:06 AM
Everyone borrows, everyone steals. Hell, Tolkien stole many of his names from earlier works himself.

According to some friends of mine who'd seen an earlier book of mine, I should take a look at the series "Firefly" because it has a LOT of similarity...

Not sure if names would fall in the same area of copyright law as an idea/plot...I'd be very careful where I stepped if I was "borrowing" names.

Chasing the Horizon
12-23-2006, 09:40 AM
When I name characters the names have to meet certain criteria
1. No-one I know can have the same first or last name
2. The names must be easy to type (a.k.a. not fifteen letters long!)
3. The names must be easy to say and easy to read correctly every time.
4. The first and last name have to sound good together. (Unless there is no last name)

I generally like to use fairly common names, that way they don't distract from the story.
My current WIP's main characters names are:
Jack Armistead
Rose Angelica
Alexander Triston
(The whole each character having an 'A' in their name thing was completely accidental and I just noticed it!)

These names are so common no-one could accuse me of stealing them.

When I name places I tend to name them after towns around the country that no-one will ever have heard of or give them names that kind of describes what they are.

Every now and then I actually make up a name.
Borgeth, Rasheen, Vallee, are some characters in my current WIP that I made up the names for.

Then there are times making up names really goes awry.
Examples: MataLeInfineeta (an object) sounded good until I had to type it 100 times! Now it tends to get called the 'Mata' :)

Names don't really mean much, though. Its what the name represents that really matters. Have a good world and good characters and nobody will even think about the names.

12-23-2006, 09:01 PM
In my current work, most of the names are derivatives of names in the first novel I wrote, since they are descendants. For example, the MC in the first book is Jayson Nessmith. Yes, the same name as Tim Allen's character in Galaxy Quest. I named the character well before that movie came out, so it was a complete fluke. But since book 1 is likely going to live in a drawer forever, it doesn't really matter now.

Anyway, some of the descendent's names are Jase, Jaydn, stuff like that. (Those two are in different novels, I try not to have characters with names too close to each other in the same book.)

I also slip in a little tip of the hat here and there to people I know. I'll take their name and play with it a bit so that it fits with the naming style of the work, but so that they'll recognize it right away.

12-23-2006, 09:11 PM
1. No-one I know can have the same first or last nameI used to try that, but then realized I know too many people and most names are going to be duplicated.

Sometimes (since I write in a SF-style genre), I'll rework names I know into ones for my characters.

Someone I knew long ago named Rhiannon was the basis for one of the major characters in my first book, Rione...for example.

12-27-2006, 01:58 PM
I'm not trying to use original names on my science fiction characters, especially not the humans. I do try to use names that are distinct from one another and easy to remember. I haven't yet decided what kinds of names my extraterrestrial species would have, and how they would be written in the latin alphabet for example. Not my greatest problem with this particular story...

12-27-2006, 02:08 PM
Probably not very original at all. Originality only marginally interests me, though.