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Character names you hate... and ones you love. (2 Viewers)

Stormcat

Senior Member
The second most important thing you can give your character is a good name. (The first is of course a memorable personality). As writers, we have characters we love, and characters we hate, but what about their names?

Recently in my day job, I had a client by the name of "Rhea". There was nothing particularly memorable about this client, good or bad, but her name had the unfortunate effect of reminding me of various diseases/medical symptoms such as Ghonnorhea and Diarrhea. Her name just left an awful taste in my mouth, even if she was otherwise very pleasant to deal with. Although this client may never read my writing, I would like to name a character "Rhea" in my current WIP. Unfortunately for my client, My "Rhea" is an abusive mother to my protagonist.

On the flip side, I have a friendly character named "Zailah". According to the names website I always use, the typical spelling is "Zilla" but I know if I used that spelling I'd have readers asking me all the time why I named a psychotherapist after Godzilla and other such monsters. Hence, the more phonetic spelling. Even if my word processor thinks it's wrong.


So, how else do you go about collecting names for your characters? Why do your characters have the names they do?
 

NajaNoir

Senior Member
Oof, I wonder if perhaps the name was short for something.

I don't have too many characters yet, at least not fully fleshed out, so less than a dozen names in total. I knew this girl once, her name was Celeste. She had marvelous long blonde hair, slightly conceited. I thought it is such a lovely name though. It was the first name I chose for a female character. Problem is, I was reading that story again, want to continue it, give her more life, and the name doesn't fit her as well as I hoped. Seems more like a Laura.

I named a character Faye, this one is not close to being done at all. But, I chose that name on purpose too, I think I might have built the character just to have one with the name. I knew a sweet-natured hippie girl once named Faye, graceful, but always seemed a little sad underneath it all. Never raised her voice to anyone. I wanted to write a character who is just as kind and also, somewhat sad.

Usually, for the main character, it's just whatever pops into my head first. I got a Leo, (I'm a Leo) an Edward, goofball that one. My favorite of all my characters is Harry though. I adore him. I didn't try and name him, it's just what popped into my head. He looks and acts like one. There's no doubt in my mind.

I got robot models dubbed the "Well-Beings", robot therapists. Meanies!

I want to use the name Julie, if ever I can find a use for it.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Often my characters have names taken from regular daily words - the idea of using such terms in a new context gives them a fresh sheen, in my view. I have a character called Starflash Omnipile in my SFF WIP. To me, it sounds mildly cool and a little kooky. The name just popped into my head one hypnogogic night.

The ones I'm not so keen on are the ones that seem too overused for me. I've spoken much about my complex feelings around the name 'Jake' (apologies to any Jakes out there - I've met a number and they are all fine folks, but the name seems just so overused in early-draft fiction).
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
I think it’s so individual to the author and the place. One person’s exquisite name seems pretentious to the next person.

For 10 years I worked with new moms and babies and names were an interesting thing to observe. I might find the name hideous but I could tell the families said the name with almost a sacredness. Like how actresses in “The Importqnce of Being Earnest” always find a way to say “Earnest” in a way that is over the top funny… that was an hourly occurrence almost for me.

There were a few months where almost every male baby was named Caison and the families all said this name as if it were the most precious find in the world and they all thought it was completely unique, but names run in trends. One year a ton of girl babies were named “Unique” in almost any weird spelling you could figure out.

Once there was a Cambodian family and the mother’s name was a very common Cambodian name “Rata” meaning Lotus in their language and her new daughter was named “Ratita,” which means flowers in their language. Our bilingual Latinex staff were so concerned and basically lost all reserve, almost demanding the family needed to reconsider this name— that this sounded like a cruel joke to them. Telling the family the names means “female rat” and “little female rat,” didn’t seem to bother the Cambodian family. I later had to find the names in a Cambodian website in order to calm my co-workers down, but it hardly did calm them down. They were in an uproar and brought it up for years. Well, this family was unperturbed, these were common female names in their culture. They didn’t yet care how the names sounded to Spanish speaking or English ears. But everyone has these different associations.

For instance, Zilla would not make me think of Godzilla, but mispronunciation does bother me maybe? Rhea makes me think of sun rays and moas (the flightless birds) (I guess depending on if it would be pronounced Reeah or Raya.).

The author of James Bond was trying to find the most boring name possible and it kind of became anything but boring of itself.

I heard of a family who worked the whole pregnancy to find a name that could never be made fun of for their baby and they thought they came up with it: Amber. Their small son immediately started calling her “Amburger” lol.

Anyway, I think names are important— and I’m glad to be reminded to think a bit harder about it— but we won’t please everyone! I don’t think having a pulse on the trends helps much either because look at the name Karen now? (Except that I always look at those trends for historical pieces).

I guess what I look at is:
1. Meaning of the name if there is a strong one. Like a character named Lily standing for purity or being the opposite.
2. Historical trends for time and place if it is a historical piece.
3. if the name is important to the story like for the character in “Precious”.
 
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VRanger

Staff member
Administrator
The ones I'm not so keen on are the ones that seem too overused for me. I've spoken much about my complex feelings around the name 'Jake' (apologies to any Jakes out there - I've met a number and they are all fine folks, but the name seems just so overused in early-draft fiction).
Interesting. I virtually never run across a 'Jake', but the singing star in our collaboration is 'Jake Callahan'. Yes, it's an early draft, and yes, his name will still be 'Jake' in the final draft. LOL

That Callahan popped into my head is an interesting coincidence. I had already named him Jake Callahan about 10 days before a friend of mine in the Heinlein Forum (FB) invited me to a group called 'Callahan's Crosstime Saloon', which is a tribute group to Spider Robinson.

I think I mentioned this one time before: For fantasy and sci-fi names one of my tricks is to take a regular name and swap a consonant or a letter (or both) until I get a sound that feels right to me, which is how I came up with 'Teven TacMarough' for a hero in my fantasy series. 'Teven' is just 'Kevin' warped, and 'TacMarough' is the Scottish 'Mac" with a hard sound on the front. When I wrote for my Silverdawn game in the 80s, I had to come up with numerous fantasy names matching fantasy races on a weekly basis. That trick is the only way I was able to accomplish it.

I have to pick regular names for my more recent "real world" work, and I've been known to use name generators when I need to list characters in bulk ... then pick something I like from the list. The MC and his brother in my 'Moods' WIP are Miles and Somerset, and poor Somerset doesn't even get to go by a nickname. Miles was a 'pop into my head' pick, and Somerset came out of a generated list.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
I used to think the character name of Hannibal Lecter was too obvious. But then along came Bernie Madoff who "made off" with all the cash in real life.

Names for me just pop into my head. Like Sofia Schoenberg, an Olympian who defected from East Germany and became a hotelier.

But sometimes I have to go back and revise names after the characters are fully developed. Like Peter Shaffer who ultimately became a descendant of a prominent Irish Catholic family had to get changed to Peter Brown. I still like Shaffer better... but there would have to be a back story about that!

I had to laugh at @Llyralen's reference to the name Karen. Where did that start?

Other names to avoid that have another context, Guy, Randy, Siri, Fanny, and Pete.
 
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Steve_Rivers

Senior Member
I once googled "Japanese names" for a side character. I found Shota, which was a boys name and sounded catchy. An alpha reader then read the chapter and told me it was more than just a Japanese boys name, it now means sexualized images of underage anime boys.

I'm rather glad that I didn't know that, and I think he felt more embarrassed for actually knowing that fact. :D Bless him for being brave enough to tell me. If -I- knew that fact I'd think twice before revealing it to ANYone hehe

Needless to say, I changed the name VERY quickly.
 

A Novel Idea

Senior Member
I really love most of the names in Game of Thrones (I haven't actually read the books) and I enjoy that of all of the great character names, one of the main characters is still a guy named Jon. As I understand it, George Martin is a history buff and a lot of scenes, especially battles, were inspired by historical events. I don't know if this goes for character names, too. Some of my favorites include Melisandre, Daenerys, Cersei, Sandor Clegane, and Tyrion. I've never looked into their origins or meaning, I just like the way they sound.

The show's success will probably see a few babies named after its characters but maybe it's poorly received ending will change a few of those minds.

Common, real-world names like Bob, Scott, Amanda, etc. (at least common where I'm from) can be tricky unless they are radically different from the ones I know. If you introduce a peppy but stressed out store manager named Scott, I'm going to have a difficult time not imagining my supervisor at work. Now if Scott is a surfer dude who says words like tubular then no problem. There is also another challenge when using these sorts of names because sometimes a reader may know somebody named Chad whom they really hate and just seeing the name bothers them.

This isn't something an author can prepare for and just has to accept the inevitability that a character's name will have a different impact for everyone who reads it.

Back to another character name I like: Szeth from Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive. It's a pretty basic change as the subtlest emphasis on the 'z' is all that differentiates it from Seth but I think it adds a certain charm.

Coming up with good names for characters and places is something that still makes me nervous. I used to love the name Cianna. I have no idea where I came up with it and I'm unable to find a real-world equivalent. I believe I was trying to figure out what Ci could be short for but I am less fond of the name now.

@Taylor I'm not gonna' lie, I'm actually a little embarrassed I never made that Bernie Madoff connection. That's hilarious!
 
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Turnbull

Senior Member
I hate the names Rachel, Robert, and Sally, but those are for personal reasons. Objectively they're fine.

I don't know that I love any names, so much as I like it when a name matches a person perfectly. Other writers get obsessed with names, but I've found that following my impulses and not thinking about it too hard is the way to go.
 

Stormcat

Senior Member
I hate the names Rachel, Robert, and Sally, but those are for personal reasons. Objectively they're fine.
No worries, I used to hate the name "Edward" until I married into a family where the patriarch was named Edward, and my husband has the middle name of "Edward".

OH! and both I and my younger sister were bullied by girls named "Rachel" (different children, same name) in elementary school. but it's been at least twenty years since then so... we've both moved on.



Anywho... Surnames.

My Character "Rhea" needs a surname, one people can acknowledge as part of a respectable lineage, and yet... want to burn it down in flames. Like, if an ancestor did an honorable thing, but a grandchild trying to capitalize on said fame would be dragged for. Think of a brand that was once respected, but in time, went awful and had to close. Any suggestions?
 

ehbowen

Senior Member
I was wrestling with the question of a good name for my feminine angelic protagonist. I wasn't taken by any of the names I could find from religion or mythology. While I was driving home from work, trying to sort out the least bad alternative, this song came on the radio: "Dawn, go away I'm no good for you..."

Bingo.
 

ehbowen

Senior Member
Anywho... Surnames.

My Character "Rhea" needs a surname, one people can acknowledge as part of a respectable lineage, and yet... want to burn it down in flames. Like, if an ancestor did an honorable thing, but a grandchild trying to capitalize on said fame would be dragged for. Think of a brand that was once respected, but in time, went awful and had to close. Any suggestions?
DuPont? Sears? Vanderbilt (of robber baron fame)?
 

Windsor Fernsby

Senior Member
I can’t stand it when people take a perfectly good name and try to stretch it with unnecessary letters. “Robin” and “Maverick” are OK. “Robbynne” and “Mhavurick” are not.
This doesn’t seem to just be an author problem, though. Parents have this, too.

For regular, unextended names: I have an irrational dislike for the name “Bronwyn.” I’m not entirely sure why, but I just... don’t like it. The way it sticks to your mouth instead of rolling smoothly off the tongue pisses me off a little.
 
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A Novel Idea

Senior Member
I can’t stand it when people take a regular name and try to stretch it with unnecessary letters. “Robin” and “Maverick” are OK. “Robbynne” and “Mhavurick” are not.
This doesn’t seem to just be an author problem, though. Parents have this, too.

For regular, unextended names: I have an irrational dislike for the name “Bronwyn.” I’m not entirely sure why, but I just... don’t like it. The way it sticks to your mouth instead of rolling smoothly off the tongue upsets me.

"How do you spell -peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth-?"

"Bronwyn."
 
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