How do we come up with names for fictional characters?

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

Post by moderntimes » 20 Sep 2014, 21:45

As said, I totally avoid ANY hint of the character being named ANYTHING that remotely matches his or her personality. Human beings don't fall into that mantra and my books, being very realistic, eschew "colorful" character names. Waaay too Runyonesque for me, way too old fashioned and stereotypical.

I do select ethnic character names but also avoid typical "common" names, such as naming Hispanic men Jose or Manuel.

My character names are intentionally devoid of any "meaning" and are simply names picked from the phone book and jumbled a bit.

But then, as I said, I'm writing very realistic modern mystery fiction and I avoid any sort of fanciful names or plots.
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Post by emmyduffel » 24 Sep 2014, 06:06

Carrie R wrote: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.


I will definitely have to check this out. I usually make up names myself, too, but it'd be interesting to see what kind of names it generates! I always like the weird ones!

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Post by ALynnPowers » 24 Sep 2014, 06:17

katarina66 wrote: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.


OMG!!! This just made me LOL so hard. I think my neighbors on every side probably heard me... as if they needed any more reason to think I am insane. (Okay, seriously, I'm still laughing about it!)

Anyway... as for me, I usually pull something out of thin air just as a "place holder" until I can think of a more suitable name. I tend to put a lot of thought into the names of my characters. Probably too much thought. I make subtle references to things that people wouldn't never understand without going through the weird webs of my mind. 8)

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Post by Ryan » 24 Sep 2014, 11:20

First names often come quickly, but for surnames I usually look at a map of England. You get some real gems! :)
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Post by hiluhriehope » 24 Sep 2014, 12:33

I spend a ton of time picking the names for my characters. I have a baby name book that I go through almost every time I need a character name. I also spend a lot of time developing my characters before I choose their name, and then I might google "Name that means . . . " until I find something that sounds right and describes the character.
I also have a tendency to change my character's name about a dozen times throughout the writing of a story.
Your name says a lot about who you are and what you will turn out to be. A good, fitting name is so important.
Honestly, choosing the name is one of my favorite parts of writing a story. :)

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Post by moderntimes » 24 Sep 2014, 14:28

Nicknames are one thing -- they are "earned" by acts as a young person or adult. But the name you're given, unless it's some goofy name like the CW song "A Boy Named Sue" and therefore people seize upon and ridicule you with, or it's some gang related name. Those are understandable.

But trying to pick a character's given name as somehow related to that person's makeup or behavior? Why, I ask. Does the name Thomas evoke a certain behavior that the name Juanita or Kenichi does not?

I frankly don't understand this. Aren't we supposed to believe that human beings are mainly responsible for much of their own makeup and behavior? Or are we still stuck in the 19th century (maybe 18th) regarding a manifest destiny of certain people who are superior to others or inferior? Or like the Nazis believed, Jewish names were significant as suspicious just on that basis alone?

Which is why I name my characters with total "blandness" except for certain ethnic traditions. I do admit to naming one of my Homicide cops "Joe Duggan" as homage to a now-departed good pal who was a great homicide cop and had a similar name. My Jewish cop is named David Meierhoff, a reasonable American-Jewish name. And two Hispanic cousins who are mid-level crooks are named Angel and Ricardo Perdon.

But all of these names are essentially bias- and characteristic-free, as they have no innate "meaning" at all. I do understand the proclivity of some to engage in "colorful" names but those should be nicknames, "earned" later in life. But the given name? Neutral and as un-labeled as possible.
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Post by hiluhriehope » 24 Sep 2014, 16:02

I don't mean that I purposefully choose unusual names. I choose names that resonate with the character, that 'fit' them. I prefer names that have a fitting meaning as well, even if I am the only person who will ever know the meaning.

Very rarely do I give my characters an 'out there' name, and if I do, I have a good reason for doing so. For the book I'm currently writing, my main character's name is Jenny - pretty bland, normal. But I chose her name for a reason. The other main character in the book is named 'Will.' Again, not very unique. But again, I chose it for a reason.

With all of that said, I have no idea what 'Jenny' (Jennifer) means. I didn't pay attention to that aspect of the naming process for this particular character. There were other considerations that caused me to settle on Jenny.

The last book I wrote, the antagonist-turned-protagonist's name was Aiden. Not super unusual, either. I think Aiden is actually becoming one of the more common baby names. That one I did choose for the meaning, as well as how it fit the character.

I'm sorry; I should have been more clear in my post. I never meant to imply that bizarre names are better, or that the meaning absolutely has to fit with the character's personality traits. I personally don't like names that are too quirky in stories. I've found that they tend to throw me, as the reader, off - especially if it's barely pronounceable, and I would assume they do the same to other readers. I do prefer common names for my characters - but I choose them with purpose and I generally spend a lot of time making that decision.

I look at it as if I was naming a child (although naming my children was significantly harder than my characters) - once you settle on a name, that's the character's name forever. It better be a good one.

Although, I will agree that if I have a character who has a strong ethnic background, I am more likely to give them a name that fits their culture, although it may seem unusual to Americans.
I also prefer writing urban fantasy (excepting my short stories and flash fictions; those tend to be very realistic) so how I name my characters may not be the right method for someone who writes in other genres. And, as always, what works for me, may not work for you. To every writer his/her own. :)

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Post by moderntimes » 24 Sep 2014, 20:46

Ah, thanks for the excellent clarification. That sums it up succinctly and quite well.

Could you list a few other character names for us, just as an illustration? And yes, I agree, "Alden" is a first rate selection.
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Post by hiluhriehope » 25 Sep 2014, 00:56

moderntimes wrote:Ah, thanks for the excellent clarification. That sums it up succinctly and quite well.

Could you list a few other character names for us, just as an illustration? And yes, I agree, "Alden" is a first rate selection.


Let's see.
As I said, I prefer to write urban fantasies. The novel I'm currently writing revolves around the world of faeries, and I have been pulling all of my information on faeries from Irish and Welsh folklore. Because of that, I have been giving my faeries, for the most part, Irish and Welsh names, although I try to choose ones that not only fit the character, but are also pronounceable for English-speaking readers.
One of the more unusual names in my book is 'Sybrant.' I chose that one after a lot of deliberation, although it is one of the few that is not an Irish or Welsh name, because I felt that it resonated with the character. While it is not a common name, it isn't difficult to pronounce.

My main character's best friend is Stacey. That one I also did not choose for the meaning, but because I thought it worked for the character. Stacey is an extrovert, very bubbly and upbeat, and also very vain. I think Stacey was a better choice than, say, Esther or Mildred. Stacey is a pretty normal name as well. I'm writing for a YA audience, and Stacey, and Jenny, I think help make the characters more relatable to a younger audience. Is there anyone in their high school named Sybrant? Doubtful. But chances are there is a Stacey, and there's almost definitely a Jenny/Jennifer (or several.)

Another thing I take into consideration is the length of the name. I try to choose names that are one or two syllables, because I think it's easier on the reader. Characters' names are repeated a ton throughout a book, sometimes several times on just one page. Nobody wants to trip over a name that takes up a full line of the page. A side effect of choosing short names is that it makes it difficult to choose a ridiculous one.

Here's a brief list of some of the names I have used, common and not-so-common:
Cynthia
Nineveh
Beth
Bambi
Caleb
Kim (Kimberly)
Damien
Aiden
Joe
Jonah
Chrissy
Robert
Jenny (Jennifer)
Will
Stacey
Sybrant

There are more, but those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

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Post by Johntherobert » 25 Sep 2014, 16:13

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Post by MichaelMcManus » 25 Sep 2014, 16:31

In my two-book series that spans a forty year period, the names range from very old fashioned (Alma, Oscar, Helen, Ann and Patrick) to more modern names (Erika, Abby, Kirk, Mandy and Taylor). The names have to fit the time.

In other stories I have written, I have wanted to give characters names that readers will remember. Darcie and Quinton are names that I feel fill that bill.

If I am stuck for the surname of a person from a particular country, I simply Google surnames for that country. You would be surprised at how many names come back in the search results.

When I begin to write a story, I usually start a separate file where I list the names and a brief description of the character. That helps immensely when there are many characters, not all of whom appear frequently in the book.
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Post by MaryMathis » 01 Oct 2014, 08:45

There are having certain rules to find the names for fictional characters. This rules are like:-
Check the root meanings
Get your era right.
Try to differentiate your large cast of characters by using different first initials.
Think it through.

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Post by booksbycourtney » 05 Oct 2014, 00:51

I will google lists of boys and girls names and I find one that I like and I give it a role and a personality in my story. I usually pick names that you rarely hear in everyday life, or everyday books.

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Post by LSWS07 » 05 Oct 2014, 02:27

I think out the whole story in head before writing, and my characters never have names! When I've plotted everything out, I try to find a name that "fits" the personality and trajectory of the character.

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Post by WinterCandyMints » 17 Oct 2014, 19:38

Random. I pick out names I like. I'll write them down and use them later randomly. Or I'll draw out the character and write names that might fit them. The one that sticks is the one I'll use. Most often though, I'll say the first name that comes to my head, intending to change it later, but then eventually love it too much to change it.

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