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Naming a Character (1 Viewer)

Mark Twain't

Staff member
Board Moderator
What are peoples' processes for naming characters.


I'm struggling with one at the moment. She's a young women who ended up on the streets (London) at just 15. She quickly becomes a heroin addict and is taken in by a local gangster but he feeds her addiction so he can keep her compliant. She's not the MC but she becomes sort of a sidekick later in the book.
 

Lawless

Senior Member
If I had to make up a name for someone from my own ethnic group... It's a really difficult question. Maybe I'd let a random numbers generator (such as Excel's RND function) generate a random letter of the alphabet and then make up a name beginning with that letter? Maybe even generate two letters and try to come up with a name whose first two letters are those, and should it be impossible, then maybe a slightly different name would occur to me that sounds suitable?

Pick a random book from the shelf, open it in a random place and look at the first word in the 3rd row on the left page, and try to think of a name similar to that word??
 

midnightpoet

WF Veterans
When I was writing my first novel (back in 1980's) I came up with J.W. Mack (John Wayne Mack) as my protagonist, combining two of my favorite cowboy actors (Johnny Mack Brown the other) from the '50's. Try putting down say 10 first names with 10 last names and random pick. I realize naming ethnic characters can be a problem, but like it's common here in Texas to have an "Anglo" first name combined with an Hispanic last name or vice versa. You can always change it later, and often you might find out after you finish or during the process that the "right" name will come to you.
 

Joker

Senior Member
Corrit is actually a corruption of Corvo, the protagonist of the video game Dishonored. It's a favorite of mine and both characters are foreigners with a checkered past.

His last name, Raith... It just sounds cool to be honest. Sounds like like wraith, or wraith. It's a short name an avian species might use.

Silver, being a factory robot who gained sentience, named herself. A luxury or a curse? I figured she just appropriated a nickname for her. The silver one.

Wilbur, Hau and Nyssa are all just ethnic names I had for human characters in previous works that didn't pan out. German, Vietnamese and Arabic respectively. Not much to them, just liked them.
 

MistWolf

Senior Member
I speak the names out loud and listen to how they sound and how they roll off the tongue. Like-
-Jessica Jones
-Captain Janeway
-Johnny Rico

These names have momentum and flow. Notice how your mouth and tongue are positioned to transition from the last letter of the first name to the first letter of the last name-
- ca Jones
-n Janeway
- y Rico

I avoid names that are difficult to say aloud.

I like names that tell the reader something about the character of the character. J.K. Rowling has them scattered all through her books-
-Peeves. Right away we know Peeves the Poltergeist is going to be peevish.
-Draco Malfoy. This name drips with malicious (Malfoy) arrogance (Draco).
-Thomas Marvalo Riddle. Thom, the Marvelous Enigma.

There are names that can be turned into nicknames. Michael Connolly is the master of not so endearing nicknames-
-Lt. Harvey “98 Pounds” Pounds. This is a reference to the "98 Pound Weakling" everyone picks on. Yes, Pounds is seen as weak and given no respect.
-Lt. Grace “Bullets” Billets. She's called "Bullets" because she's a tough, no nonsense commander, though never to her face.
-Honey "Money" Chandler is a civil rights attorney with no scruples, only interested in the money the case will bring. The nickname "Money" (rhymes with "Honey") is meant as an insult.

Other things I play with are syllable counts, placement of hard & soft consonants and what images the name conjures up. I also like to combine unusual with common. An example of this is Indiana Jones.

There's something about Jones that makes it a good last name for almost anything. A few I invented off the top of my head I think sound interesting-
-Malodorous Jones
-Ambiguous Jones
-Mojave Jones
-Coyote Jones
-Bowler Jones

Flavor is very important to me when it comes to fantasy or science fiction characters. Names like Bilbo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, Captain James T. Kirk, Zena, The Doctor, Princess Leia Organa, Lt. Uhura and Diana Prince. Each name gives a taste of the milieu the character inhabits.

How a name is chosen or generated isn't important. Throw darts at phone book for ideas, if you must. But do give the results thought. Does the name roll off the tongue, or is it awkward? Does it lend flavor to the story, to the world? Does it say something about the character? If not, work with it until it does.

Just don't become Analysis Paralysis Jones.
 
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K.S. Crooks

Senior Member
I start with the role of the character (primary, secondary, hero or villain) I then consider what they look like (their sex, age, ethnicity). I then decide on a selection of names and adjust my choices as more get filled in. I also make a conscious choice of having different first letter to their names.
 

Mark Twain't

Staff member
Board Moderator
Interesting replies.

Problem I'm having is that this particular character (secondary) is from a poor background and every name I come up with sounds either too posh or too stereotypical.
 

Darkkin

WF Veterans
Honestly, a name pops into my head, I pick it up and run with it. I have never created a character without knowing their name. Everything else becomes secondary, but that is how my brain works. If I don't know your name, how can I create you?
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Use a baby dictionary and search for one you like. This old advice did not fail me when I tried to look for some names that sounded appealing in both English and French. As for titles of stories I am stumped on that and wish more people would share their process on that. I stumbled on some interesting names when searching. One is hamet which sounds like hamlet. It's a real name used in countries like Senegal. Shakespeare actually had a son called Hamnet. That's where the name Hamlet came from many historians suspect.
 

Megan Pearson

Senior Member
Interesting replies.

Problem I'm having is that this particular character (secondary) is from a poor background and every name I come up with sounds either too posh or too stereotypical.
Darkkin talked about needing to know a character's name before creating the character & I have to agree with that. But if it's a background character whose role is primary, I'll just plug in his role like <that> & fill in a cast appropriate name later.

I want my primary characters named first. I want them to be eye-catching on the page, easy to read yet distinct from one another so as to not confuse the reader. I like & use baby name books, random name generators, & surname generators. But I'm also considering the story's location (not so much ethnicity but rather does it seem to be a location-appropriate name) and the character's family of origin economic and educational attainment. I want the name believable to the story setting. Maybe a family business or character strength/flaw influences the surname? Do they go by a nickname? How'd they get the nickname?

You could go on and on with this, but like someone here already said, find a name & run with it. You'll know after a while if it's going to stick or not. There's no shame in renaming a character when their real name 'hits' you when you're in the shower!
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
What are peoples' processes for naming characters.


I'm struggling with one at the moment. She's a young women who ended up on the streets (London) at just 15. She quickly becomes a heroin addict and is taken in by a local gangster but he feeds her addiction so he can keep her compliant. She's not the MC but she becomes sort of a sidekick later in the book.
I tend to use either actual non-name words that I might slightly namify, or interesting-sounding gibberish sourced from wherever I can mine it. Eg I have characters called Gaunt, Hemocide, Danycode, Ao, and Day. The more outlandish a character - like a fantasy race - the more namey I make their names. I have a race of winged humanoids called Swarhelians. They're blue-and-white and do all sorts of fantasy stuff. Their names in my books? Kenny, Benny and Penny.:)

For your character, I would choose an everyday word whose meaning/etymology/sound/appearance conveys something of her character. If for eg she is fragile I might start calling her, I dunno, Gossamer or Spider or something, if it were my character. It's all a bit of an unconscious process.

Hmm ... gibberish mining...
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Character names often come naturally when they’re born, but I sometimes modify names that are similar. When I get stuck I look up popular baby names from different eras, and ethnic surnames.
the web is your friend.
 

Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Nothing scientific about my process. I use names that I like, and that suit the character depending on their age and place of birth. (Google works wonders) Also, based on people I know or have seen on TV. For example, I called my rich Eastcoast lady Melania after a rich lady I know in my hometown. But I was always concerned about another rich Eastcoast lady people might associate. I don't want people to make assumptions about who my character might be based on. So, I was looking out for something safer, and then voila! Watching reality TV, I saw another less famous rich Eastcoast lady called Meridith...perfect. Thank goodness for find and replace!

For me, naming the characters is one of the best parts of writing. It's like giving birth. And typically the character comes to life and lives up to their name.

I always thought "Hannibal Lecter" was too heavy-handed. But then there is the real-life "Bernie Madoff." Made off with all the money. :)
 
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Turnbull

Senior Member
In a story of mine, I wrote characters whose names were all sounds. One was Miaul (an old fashioned way to say "meow") and another was "Terwa" -- which is the middle section of "caterwaul." Another time I named all my characters in alphabetical order by appearance.

But for some reason when I think of your character, "Bristol" comes to mind.
 
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