How do we come up with names for fictional characters?

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Re: How do we come up with names for fictional characters?

Post by greenpoppy » 16 Jun 2014, 23:33

I saw my character in my head. I saw everything about him and the first word out of my mouth was his name.

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Post by biggsrv » 17 Jun 2014, 01:02

My character names simply had to be from the era they were born in, mostly. Names are very often fashionable these days so some of the characters needed to be named using common names from the 1970's...others from the late 1800's.
I found that I've had to be carful though. The pet dog was called Sally originally but I work with someone called Sally so changed it. A young female character called Kelly also had to have a name change for the same reason. I didn't want people at work thinking I was picturing a work colleague getting up to what my character does!!

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Post by BanginBookBreakdown » 22 Jun 2014, 00:31

I'm very late commenting on this thread (only by a couple years - it's really no big deal...), but the topic fascinates me.

I spend a lot of time thinking about the names of the characters I'm writing about. It does take me a really long time to decide the perfect name. One method I have found that works well for me, at least during the beginning phases, is to take a vacation! Seriously, the long drive gives me ample time to think these things through AND I have continuous exposure to some quite excellent names as I pass the different streets, cities, and bodies of water.

I can't tell you how many times my husband has had to frantically scribble names down as I rattle them off on the road. He hates it, but I end up with some pretty good material!

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Post by emmadbaker1 » 24 Jun 2014, 11:50

Every day, I am thinking as a writer. I see people as characters, not strangers I pass by. Every time I hear a unique name that catches my attention, I jot it down. I also have baby naming apps I use. I have a long list of names on my iPod I refer to when choosing a new name. It has to relate to the character in some way. Are they edgy or girly? I always take that into account. When I say that character's name, It has to bring a wonderfully detailed image of that very character into my mind. If it doesn't, then I have failed and I must start all over again.

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Post by moderntimes » 24 Jun 2014, 12:12

Somewhat counter to emmad's technique, I choose totally neutral names. Because I'm writing modern crime fiction, my characters are a broad pastiche of American urban life, so I choose Anglo, Hispanic, Asian, A-A, and other racial or cultural names, but otherwise my character names have zero to do with their personality. How could they? When parents name a baby, they have no idea whether the person will end up "girly or edgy" so names that describe a character are fanciful. I am however writing realistic fiction, not fantasy or children's books, so it makes sense for me to use real names that are neutral. The name for me has absolutely no connection to the character's personality. None whatsoever. To do otherwise would be to succumb to "cuteness" and I'm writing realistic modern fiction.
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Post by Ssirren39 » 28 Jun 2014, 01:35

When it comes to character names, I like to base mine on a few ideas. One, is the type of character, and two, the part of the world they are in. If I have for instance a fantasy type wereanimal, I will base the name on that persons part in the story, what they look like, their character, personality, etc.
If I find names that I find interesting,I will start to make a list and keep them for future reference in case I happen to develop a character that one of the names will fit with. So I think I use a few different techniques when it comes to character names.
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Post by moderntimes » 28 Jun 2014, 12:17

I have a fairly long list of possible character names. Since I'm mostly writing modern realistic crime fiction, none are fanciful or Runyonesque ("cute" criminal names). And frankly, I tend to avoid long names simply because they're harder to type!
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Post by kody » 28 Jun 2014, 14:57

Whenever my wife asks me to help her come up for names for her little short stories I just take a normal name and spell it differently so that way when somebody else goes to say it they say it differently and thus making it a new name to be used in a story.

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Post by SidnayC » 05 Jul 2014, 10:52

Before I name any character I always imagine how the character will look like in my head. Then I have to go through the process of giving that character a name that befits the image I have in my head. For example if I am picturing an angelic-looking girl with blonde curly hair and a small frame... I'm not going to call her Pat! I have to use a soft name so readers can visualize my character not just from the description but every time her name is mention.
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Post by RussetDivinity » 05 Jul 2014, 11:10

The website Behind the Name works incredibly well for me. It has names from all sorts of cultures and gives notes on meanings, along with links to variants of the names. I'm writing a novel set in a fantasy land based on Wales, and it's helped m find Welsh names, along with names from other countries for the foreign characters. It has a "Name of the Day" and a sister site for surnames, which I've used to mix and match, from names that come from the same culture to multicultural names (which are very good for science fiction).
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Post by quill_begotten » 05 Jul 2014, 11:35

Usually names just come to me. I've always been a "name nerd" and when I look at animals or dolls or think about a character a name pops into my head that just fits. Sometimes it's not as easy and sometimes I actually have the name before I have the character and I start to shape the character around the name, which is fun. Asking for help in forums on naming sites can be helpful if you're stuck or are wondering what people's perception of a name is!
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Post by Alison97 » 06 Sep 2014, 12:17

Well, I got the basic premise of my book from a dream, so the characters already came with names (courtesy of my subconscious). I mean, the names were pretty minimalist (Kait for my FMC, and Matt for my MMC). But then again, one of the book's themes deals with order, moral purity, controlling people's perceptions of the past, etc, so maybe these streamlined names are oddly befitting.....

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Post by Gravy » 06 Sep 2014, 21:28

quill_begotten wrote:I've always been a "name nerd"
At least I'm not alone 8)

I think it can work in many different ways. Sometimes the name comes first, sometimes the character has to build a bit, and sometimes the name and character are just there, in your head, pounding at the door to get out.

I collect baby name books.
You can find them specialized by just about any criteria and, if nothing more than a jumping off point to make up your own names, they're handy things to have around.
I like the trend of making one name by combining two or more others.
I've had names just pop into my head and when I look them up they don't "exist".

Names really can be magical things.

I also love what Stephen King had to say about naming characters in On Writing.
"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."

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Post by dirtsmithy11 » 09 Sep 2014, 00:57

Mash the keyboard and add some vowels!

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Post by booksandlatte » 20 Sep 2014, 17:10

I go about naming my characters the same way that I go about naming my children and pets, I research names that fit their unique characteristics and personality traits (babies have a lot of personality, even as newborns :D ).

I do a Google search for names that mean certain things (like I once had a reddish Cocker Spaniel so I searched for words that meant red and he also thought he was the king of my world so I researched names that meant king, he ended up with the name Rory Adonis: which means handsome red king a very appropriate name for him)

If I can't find an appropriate name for characters in this manner, again I will do what I always do and just make something up sometimes off the top of my head and sometimes by creating variations of names that are closely related to what I'm looking for.

It's funny because I've never had to explain my process before but I like having to describe it because it helps to solidify the process in my mind so thanks for the great question.

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