Guest Moonlight Knight

How do you name the characters of your stories?

31 posts in this topic

For me, it depends on the world.

If I’m writing for a fandom, such as Lord of the Rings, or Dragon Age, I look to the fandom’s naming conventions. Tolkien resources abound online, nd for Dragon Age, each realm corresponds to a degree to a country in our own world. Ferelden is English/Scottish. Antiva is Spain. Orlais is France. So, using names from those countries works well.

As far as original work, however, that’s part of my world building. I absolutely agree with Des that you do need to adjust for balance. And for how it sounds. Say it out loud, because I promise you, your readers will, and if it sounds wrong, it takes them right out of the story.

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3 hours ago, Desiderius Price said:

Random name generators help out a lot.  (With some selection for balance and having it sound right.)

I’ve seen sites with name generators keyed to several specific genres, too.

Sometimes I’ll just flip open the phone book to random pages. One time I did that with the in-flight magazine on an airplane.

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I like the old dracula/alucard thing of giving them a backwards name. Hence the demon Eparlegna and his hobby of appearing in the sort of story that Tumblr’s more activist users do not care for. Also, occasional jokey/wordplay names. Otherwise, I just mess around until something fits.

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I use the generators as a starting point because my mind doesn’t work well with blank sheets of paper, and the amount of time I fuss over it depends on the size of the character’s role.  If I’m filling out a family tree, next to none.  But if the character appears in the story with any appreciable role, I do spend time on them.   The generators I deal with typically give lists, so it might be 50 names, and I’ll scan the list to see if any of them works, if not, I hit the “refresh” button.  For characters with significant story time, I do try to make sure that the names are phonetically different, where possible, because names can mash together to the reader if you’ve got lots of “Jaimie” and “Jaden” and “Joe” and “Joey” and “Josephine” and “Jarred” and “Jefferey” and “Julian”, etc….

I know some people might dis on random generators, but to me, those are just suggestions, not like I’m saying “the next roll of the dice is...”, because it is my character I’m creating.   And, as I work with characters, writing them, I’ll frequently change them anyway, adapting them to the circumstances, and how they write out on the story.  (As I’m building a world, my DB is a couple of thousand characters, some more thoughtfully considered than others.)

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I holler out to whoever’s in the room with me “Give me a girl/boy name!” My kids love playing the naming game. :P 

Of course this is usually just for non MCs because the MCs usually come to me with a name already attached.

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I'm kind of strange in this regard.  Some just come to me like that (...I guess snapping fingers is a little pointless to show...) while others have taken a while.

When I can't just come up with one right off the bat, I often form up a list of random names.  Everything I can think of potentially working with regards to the world I am creating.  A three column sheet that has given, middle, and surnames.  Then I take a look through.

It depends a lot on the character as well as the story and consequent plans.  Usually I have a bit of an idea of what personality and whereabouts their character arch is going, so this helps a bit.  But...  A fantasy world is not likely to have Bob for an Elf (okay, someone's throwing tomatoes...), although I would love to hear a tale about Bob the Elf...  Depending on the character, too, does the name suit them?  At least with me, it becomes a challenge to find a name that I feel fits a character.

There a many times, too, that I'll take an existing name that may fit, but doesn't 'look' right for the character and twist it.  (For example: Erica - Arika, Zachary -Zakari, Xavier - Zavier.)  People are quite creative with names, so I wouldn't be afraid to experiment.

And finally, at the end of development, the epic question (well... To me at least): Does it sound like something someone would have?  In my case, as mine is not fantasy, I cannot speak much there,but I'm guessing there might be similar veins as naming conventions help make a race...   But, I will leave that to other, more experienced, people.  Anyway...  What I mean is, I have found that most people I know, myself included, have names that roll off the tongue...  Most do not have a name like Rhodel Adriana Benedict.  Many have something like Thomas Christopher Anderman.  It may not roll off the tongue well, but it's not as much a tongue twister as the first...  (Okay, the audience is throwing the beer bottles; I'm off.)

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I’m a bit anal about character names. There’s a lot of criteria I need to check names off against when I’m planning MCs. I typically use baby name lists for real world names and name generators for fantasy name inspiration that I chop up and smoosh together. 

They have to collectively not sound too alike, both phonetically and syllable...wise? Course they have to fit the world, and region, and whatever other social circumstances. If it’s a rare or fantasy name, my biggest concern is finding something that doesn’t look too odd when repeated multiple times in a paragraph. And I like to know the meanings and pronunciations of course too, just to make sure I didn’t name them after a cow turd or something. Then, once that’s all figured out, they have to feel right for the character. 

This process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to hooours. Like the fantasy world char I’m trying to name right now. Lufer… Elari… Luflaraoisjd…? FML. 

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8 minutes ago, JayDee said:

My new rule is to only read any work of fiction if it contains at least one character, male, female or other, called “Bob” or “Bobbie”.

::peruses WIPs:: Well, shit. I have no Bobs or Bobbies, but I do have lots of dangly bits. Oh, well…:lol:

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56 minutes ago, JayDee said:

My new rule is to only read any work of fiction if it contains at least one character, male, female or other, called “Bob” or “Bobbie”.

Like BW, I have no Bob or Bobbie, but I do have a nicknamed Robbie...  Doesn't count?  Damn, I tried...

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17 hours ago, CloverReef said:

This process can take anywhere from 10 minutes to hooours. Like the fantasy world char I’m trying to name right now. Lufer… Elari… Luflaraoisjd…? FML. 

I want to read about the adventures of Mister Luflaraoisjd now.

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1 hour ago, JayDee said:

My new rule is to only read any work of fiction if it contains at least one character, male, female or other, called “Bob” or “Bobbie”.

I really should make time to write that explicit pornographic retelling of “Bobby Shafto”...

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I usually like to give my characters a name that has a meaning. I like using google translate and giving my character a name that means something in another language. Like for example my character Bai Hu, his name is white tiger: Bai – white, Hu - tiger in Chinese (according to google translate). And I use this method for naming places too. 

I also just like pick the names I like, you know, I like how they sound and shit. I tend to write down names I like so when I need a name I come back to that list. Or (like ppl already pointed out) baby name websites and shit like that.

Edited by sweetmamajama
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i use names of characters/heroes and then re arrange some letters to kind of sound like someone but not exactly.

Thor – Thorn – Tholon etc

Zeus – Zelus

helps ti give a mental image in my mind of who im thinking of as reference.

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No set process. I just pick whatever rolls off the tongue. If I get thoughtful about it. I ask myself. What did their parents name them. Which gets me thinking about the background of the parents and the family upbringing.

 

I rarely do that anymore since the name, is basically the most unimportant part of the character. You can name a character anything.A great souding name will not save a poorly written character.

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On 20/04/2017 at 6:00 PM, PenStoryTeller said:

I rarely do that anymore since the name, is basically the most unimportant part of the character. You can name a character anything.A great souding name will not save a poorly written character.

 

I don’t know. I partly agree and disagree. Like, I see what you’re saying. As a reader, I usually don’t go around checking into the meaning and etymology of a character’s name. But for me personally, names hold power the same way words hold power. Sometimes I’ll avoid reading a story just because the naming is too generic or too indulgent. And it can be an interesting extension to a character if you make a statement with their name, such as a timid little mouse of a character named Butch lol. There’s also the emphasizing or expressing some aspect of your character’s background or personality through naming, but that kinda thing is so subjective. It has more to do with sound for me than meaning. For others, meaning is very important. 

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8 hours ago, CloverReef said:

I don’t know. I partly agree and disagree. Like, I see what you’re saying. As a reader, I usually don’t go around checking into the meaning and etymology of a character’s name. But for me personally, names hold power the same way words hold power. Sometimes I’ll avoid reading a story just because the naming is too generic or too indulgent. And it can be an interesting extension to a character if you make a statement with their name, such as a timid little mouse of a character named Butch lol. There’s also the emphasizing or expressing some aspect of your character’s background or personality through naming, but that kinda thing is so subjective. It has more to do with sound for me than meaning. For others, meaning is very important. 

 I get ya. what i’m saying is, find the happy medium. I mean You don’t need to go over the top to add meaning to a character’s name. If you’ve done your caharcter right, whatever name you give them, will be defined by them.  Sometimes you can get away with descriptive names.. See Last Unicorn: Shmendrick the magician and the Miserable King Haggard.  But think about the name Bilbo Baggins. There’s a name that is pretty much nonsense, it was the whe way it was because it Tolkien liked the character names to be something you could sing.Think of of the Dwarves. Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, Fili, Kili, Dori, Nori, Ori,  Bifur, Bofur and of course Bombur.

I suppose the best way to arrive at a good name for a place or character is to frequently read the story aloud to yourself. Your ears will tell you if the name sounds right. The names don’t have to hold meaning to the reader. They just have to hodl meaning to the character and the world they live in.
 

There’s no wrong or right way, but paradoxically, you know when an author has skewed too far into not caring or gone overly pretetious with their naming scheme.

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In the end, there’s no real “the one true way” to name a character, and it depends on the nature of your story.  Tolkien was creating his own world, he could name as he saw fit for that world.  Mine, trying to hold some semblance of realism, well, need to generally be something you’d likely find in the phone directory (you know, those old collections of sheets of paper used to level furniture and monitor stands).  For me, I lean on random names/trait pickers as my mind doesn’t do well when facing a blank page, and to avoid ending up with a thousand clones of the same character with very similar names.  As most of my characters won’t make it to the actual page, I’m generally not fretting over whether his/her name rhymes with another’s.  (For MCs and other important characters, I will generally fill out their family trees a bit, to get a feel, ie, siblings, cousins, etc.)

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On 22/04/2017 at 9:04 PM, PenStoryTeller said:

I suppose the best way to arrive at a good name for a place or character is to frequently read the story aloud to yourself. Your ears will tell you if the name sounds right. The names don’t have to hold meaning to the reader. They just have to hodl meaning to the character and the world they live in.

 

lol I don’t know who you are, but I like you. 100% read shit out loud! I feel the need to glare smugly at someone (he knows who he is) about that, but I’m too lazy to be an asshole today. Your points are well put and with examples to back them up. I agree with most of the things you say, and am actually kinda impressed with how thought-out and concise you are about explaining. The only thing I just mildly disagree with is that naming was the most unimportant. Though, I understand you were likely speaking relatively to other aspects of planning a character.  

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