How do we come up with names for fictional characters?

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Joe McCoubrey
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How do we come up with names for fictional characters?

Post by Joe McCoubrey » 18 Jul 2012, 12:53

If you think about it, the average novel will introduce about 20 or 30 different characters – from the hero or heroine (and their closest friends/family) right through to all the people they need to encounter in the various twists and turns of a story.

So where does an author start the naming process?

We all do it differently, but put no less thought into coming up with names that roll off the tongue, stay memorable for the reader, and somehow capture the character we’re writing about.

Lee Child’s engrossingly enigmatic MP wouldn’t be the same if he wasn’t called Jack (just call me) Reacher, and how did Stephen Leather take an everyday kind of name like Dan Shepherd and make it resonant through a gripping series? In the latter case, Leather’s use of the nickname ‘Spider’ provided an easy alliteration that we, as readers, instantly buy into.
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Post by katarina66 » 19 Jul 2012, 15:40

Funnily enough, with all the thousands of names bandied about out there, chosing a name which fits your character can be very difficult. I heard an amusing story once. Joyce holmes, crime writer, called her villian David. Her editor said, 'David is much too nice a name for a villian, change it.' So, using the find and change feature in word, she changed all the Davids to Dick.
Her publisher later contacted her and said do we really need this?
She had origonally said that her protagonist had a nose like Micheal Angelo's David.

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Post by Maud Fitch » 21 Jul 2012, 03:14

When I see an unusual name I jot it down for future reference. Alternatively I take an average name and tweak it.
If you want to see how fictional character names can be re-used to great effect, read one of Jasper Fforde's detective Thursday Next novels.
"Every story has three sides to it - yours, mine and the facts" Foster Meharny Russell

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Post by lanneschubert » 22 Jul 2012, 22:17

I've heard of several authors who, when searching for an unusual yet fitting name, find their inspiration for names in buildings, from names of plants, cities, or anything in their surrounding. Naming the characters must be like creating a recipe and finding that perfect blend the explodes on your tastebuds or, in this case, blows your mind.

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Post by tbughi1 » 23 Jul 2012, 13:23

I try to keep my names different. I scroll down the alphabet, picking a name for each new character introduced that doesn't start with the same letter as another name or even sound similar to another name. I don't want my reader to be introduced to Mike and then a couple pages later meet a Matt. There's more to this process obviously, but that's step #1
Apparently, I am one of many who is human.

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Post by laci_baby » 26 Jul 2012, 11:16

I bought a baby name book way before i started thinking about kids for this exact reason. I went through and highlighted names i wanted to use. Also, as cheesy as it sounds, get to know your character before you name them. Their personality, their strengths and weaknesses. their past. Gettingto know your character will help you name them. If your characters a depressive, kill me now goth chick, does she sound like a Jamima to you? Do you think Dracula would have been the same hit as it is if his name was Bubba or Ricky or Kevin? Color me crazy but Bob the vampire doesnt strike too many scary nerves in my opinion. Figure out the person before you label them with a name. Names are more important than people think. I always write a background for my characters just for my own use to help me name them. Sounds crazy, i know, but trust me it works.
Fairytales are more than true: not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten. -Neil Gaiman

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Post by Fran » 26 Jul 2012, 13:43

laci_baby wrote:I bought a baby name book way before i started thinking about kids for this exact reason. I went through and highlighted names i wanted to use. Also, as cheesy as it sounds, get to know your character before you name them. Their personality, their strengths and weaknesses. their past. Gettingto know your character will help you name them. If your characters a depressive, kill me now goth chick, does she sound like a Jamima to you? Do you think Dracula would have been the same hit as it is if his name was Bubba or Ricky or Kevin? Color me crazy but Bob the vampire doesnt strike too many scary nerves in my opinion. Figure out the person before you label them with a name. Names are more important than people think. I always write a background for my characters just for my own use to help me name them. Sounds crazy, i know, but trust me it works.


That's an interesting view laci .... does a person become their name or does the name become the person.
A Rose by anyother name .......... ? :?
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Post by laci_baby » 26 Jul 2012, 14:35

Fran wrote:
laci_baby wrote:I bought a baby name book way before i started thinking about kids for this exact reason. I went through and highlighted names i wanted to use. Also, as cheesy as it sounds, get to know your character before you name them. Their personality, their strengths and weaknesses. their past. Gettingto know your character will help you name them. If your characters a depressive, kill me now goth chick, does she sound like a Jamima to you? Do you think Dracula would have been the same hit as it is if his name was Bubba or Ricky or Kevin? Color me crazy but Bob the vampire doesnt strike too many scary nerves in my opinion. Figure out the person before you label them with a name. Names are more important than people think. I always write a background for my characters just for my own use to help me name them. Sounds crazy, i know, but trust me it works.


That's an interesting view laci .... does a person become their name or does the name become the person.
A Rose by anyother name .......... ? :?


Haha exactly Fran! That's definetely been something i've spent far too much time thinking about. But i truely do believe its true that your name has an impact on who you are. Personalities and such. Like, for instance, i know alot of Davids, and they're basically the same man cloned dozens of times with how similair their personalities and type of person they are. May be a strectch, hey i'm not a rocket scientest, but i strongly believe that our names have some impact on who we are.
Fairytales are more than true: not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten. -Neil Gaiman

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Post by Mr- Bishop » 06 Sep 2012, 12:25

I don't have enough posts yet to provide the links, but there are 'Name Generators' that can be found on the internet. You don't have to specifically use what comes out, but it might spark an idea. Some are for animals, some for regional names, and others specifically for fantasy names.

There are ones for naming places as well.

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Post by DATo » 08 Sep 2012, 07:55

I've always wondered about the legal ramifications of unintentionally using a name and profession (or other similarities) to a living person which could initiate a lawsuit for slander, libel, defamation of character or simple intrusion. In an attempt to locate someone I know on Facebook this morning I encountered dozens of "exact match" names and similar professions to the person I was looking for. I know books have the usual "All persons and events described are fictional and do not represent actual people living or dead ect ect ect" disclaimer but is this alone enough to protect an author if by pure dumb chance he or she too closely describes a human being, family, business or other organization if called into court?
“I just got out of the hospital. I was in a speed reading accident. I hit a book mark and flew across the room.”
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Post by Allenbrayan » 12 Sep 2012, 03:07

There are a myriad of places to find names for your characters. If you’re struggling to come up with just the right one for your character, try your local phonebook is sure to provide you with a few (thousand) names you’ll love.

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Post by BethanyNP » 12 Sep 2012, 12:26

I like to pick names from baby name books, or I'll look through one of the books I've recently read and pick out the names I liked. 8)

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Post by CA_Griffith » 22 Sep 2012, 11:52

I asked the members of a forum I admin to post name suggestions for my MC. It was a fun process and a few came up with very elaborate and ridiculous names LOL!

I selected a name that was short and believable, but somewhat unusual. As for the names of the rest of the players in the book, it was not very easy as some of you already know. The "bad guy" is only referred to by his last name, but I do reveal his first name in the manuscript for the second book.

Some of the players have the last names from people I know, but I changed the first names. I visualized who I thought would do what the character(s) in the book were doing. It actually helped me if you can believe it :D

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Post by Carrie R » 29 Sep 2012, 09:27

The writing software Scrivener has a name-generating feature. I've never tried it, because so far I've been able to come up with names that suit me, but I can see where it would be useful when the brain just isn't cooperating.

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Post by Wind Wise » 30 Sep 2012, 20:12

I just find them random place or pick thier first names after fave characters.
I love to read!

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