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Naming Your Characters


Superpride

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Hello, fellow writers.  I just want to ask this simple question: how do you come up with the names for your various characters?  For me, I mostly choose characters' names, not from random, but through research since I want the main character, for example, to have a name that has a meaning that relates to their personality, character, etc.  I want their names to be like a literary device that gives a hidden meaning, and I always have to have a name that pairs with another name like Lucian and Lilith, Cecil and Colin, and Violet and Velvet from my fairytale-inspired story, Charming.  Also, Lucian means the light, while Lilith means the night which makes a lot of sense when you understand who the characters with those names are when reading that story.  I rarely choose names randomly unless the character is very minor and only appears a couple of times at most in my story.  I think it's because I'm such a control freak, wanting details of my story to match what I think is equal or balanced, like two names that start with the same letter and have the same number of letters.  Are you like me, or do you have a different approach and reasoning for why you choose certain names for your characters?

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I am one of those authors that stress over names... but not really in any meaningful way. I do want them to have nice names and there are certainly some that I have blacklisted just because I've never liked them. I typically skim baby naming websites to get naming ideas for characters. I do sometimes name my characters loosely based on the theme. If there's a religious sub-plot there will likely be a name somewhat related, like Christian, Grace, Johnathan for examples. They were in one story and they all had biblical/religion-ish names. Otherwise, I don't put a lot of thought into them, I don't look up meanings or anything like that. :) It would be interesting to possibly play around with a story where characters are pretty strict with what their name meanings are. 

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My main characters tend to appear in my head with names attached. For everyone else I generally use a name generator. Scrivener, the software I use for writing, has a built in name generator, where you can choose from different lists of names and then choose if you want very common names or very obscure ones, with a slider. If I need something more specific, say if I’m writing a character who’s from a part of the world I don’t know that much about, I google naming conventions and then find baby name sites and scroll through until I find one that looks nice.

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It honestly depends on the story, for me.  If I’m writing fantasy, I try to make up my own names that are more unique, yet are easy enough for the reader to figure out how to pronounce.  If it’s a fantasy story with a lot of characters, I will try to make sure at least some of the characters have names that are a play off of names we already know in our world.  Further, I try to give minor characters very easy names to remember - if they’re not super important, I don’t want to give them a name that’s not easy to remember, because what’s the point?

 

For all kinds of writing, I do occasionally give characters names that mean something important to their personality, past, plot points, etc.  I use this rarely, but when I do, I use baby naming websites as a guide.

 

For non-fantasy, I try to stick to names that we’ve all heard.  I feel like, in my head, it makes the characters more relatable.  I also don’t like to repeat names very often.  I don’t want to have eight stories with characters named John.  So usually, to be honest, they just pop in my head and if it feels like the right fit I roll with it.  I am not knocking when people use unique names or spellings (especially since I use them in fantasy), but in my own non-fantasy writing I find it distracting.  When/if I use more unique names in non-fantasy, I try to keep them to a minimum.

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4 hours ago, Krista said:

I am one of those authors that stress over names... but not really in any meaningful way. I do want them to have nice names and there are certainly some that I have blacklisted just because I've never liked them. I typically skim baby naming websites to get naming ideas for characters. I do sometimes name my characters loosely based on the theme. If there's a religious sub-plot there will likely be a name somewhat related, like Christian, Grace, Johnathan for examples. They were in one story and they all had biblical/religion-ish names. Otherwise, I don't put a lot of thought into them, I don't look up meanings or anything like that. :) It would be interesting to possibly play around with a story where characters are pretty strict with what their name meanings are. 

Jonathan* :gikkle:

 

Only people who were given a Romani curse or other similar situations of ill omen spell their name Johnathan.

 

I used to fret over names so bad when I was younger and creating characters.  Then I started working in jobs where I was bombarded with names over and over.  Mostly, my names are maybe partially random and also names I tend to like for one reason or another.  When I make a character though, they get the full treatment.  First, middle and last name.

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On 1/15/2019 at 4:46 PM, Krista said:

I am one of those authors that stress over names... but not really in any meaningful way. I do want them to have nice names and there are certainly some that I have blacklisted just because I've never liked them. I typically skim baby naming websites to get naming ideas for characters. I do sometimes name my characters loosely based on the theme. If there's a religious sub-plot there will likely be a name somewhat related, like Christian, Grace, Johnathan for examples. They were in one story and they all had biblical/religion-ish names. Otherwise, I don't put a lot of thought into them, I don't look up meanings or anything like that. :) It would be interesting to possibly play around with a story where characters are pretty strict with what their name meanings are. 

 

I also use baby-naming websites as well, especially ones that provide the meaning behind the names.  Also, it makes sense that characters have certain names depending on the situation they're in, like if the characters are in China, it wouldn't make sense for them to have American names or if they are in a time period from the past, a modern name wouldn't make sense either.

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On 1/15/2019 at 5:42 PM, Thorn Wilde said:

My main characters tend to appear in my head with names attached. For everyone else I generally use a name generator. Scrivener, the software I use for writing, has a built in name generator, where you can choose from different lists of names and then choose if you want very common names or very obscure ones, with a slider. If I need something more specific, say if I’m writing a character who’s from a part of the world I don’t know that much about, I google naming conventions and then find baby name sites and scroll through until I find one that looks nice.

 

I heard of name generators, but I never considered using one.  However, I might use the one you provided and then alter the name generated to my liking, so it's both random and of my own creation as well.  Thank you.

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On 1/15/2019 at 7:29 PM, Disjecta Membra said:

It honestly depends on the story, for me.  If I’m writing fantasy, I try to make up my own names that are more unique, yet are easy enough for the reader to figure out how to pronounce.  If it’s a fantasy story with a lot of characters, I will try to make sure at least some of the characters have names that are a play off of names we already know in our world.  Further, I try to give minor characters very easy names to remember - if they’re not super important, I don’t want to give them a name that’s not easy to remember, because what’s the point?

 

For all kinds of writing, I do occasionally give characters names that mean something important to their personality, past, plot points, etc.  I use this rarely, but when I do, I use baby naming websites as a guide.

 

For non-fantasy, I try to stick to names that we’ve all heard.  I feel like, in my head, it makes the characters more relatable.  I also don’t like to repeat names very often.  I don’t want to have eight stories with characters named John.  So usually, to be honest, they just pop in my head and if it feels like the right fit I roll with it.  I am not knocking when people use unique names or spellings (especially since I use them in fantasy), but in my own non-fantasy writing I find it distracting.  When/if I use more unique names in non-fantasy, I try to keep them to a minimum.

 

Yeah, I like the idea of transforming names into something that is both foreign and familiar at the same time for fantasy stories.  I also don't like repeating the same name unless it's the same character, and I do sometimes have names that pop up in the head that I use, especially if the first name and last name flow together and sound cool out loud.

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On 1/15/2019 at 9:27 PM, Jdonley75 said:

Jonathan* :gikkle:

 

Only people who were given a Romani curse or other similar situations of ill omen spell their name Johnathan.

 

I used to fret over names so bad when I was younger and creating characters.  Then I started working in jobs where I was bombarded with names over and over.  Mostly, my names are maybe partially random and also names I tend to like for one reason or another.  When I make a character though, they get the full treatment.  First, middle and last name.

 

I was the opposite.  Back when I started writing more seriously in high school, I would just come up with a name for a character from my head and just go with it.  However, now I'm more obsessive with what names I give to certain characters, most likely because of my controlling nature.  And it makes sense that some names should be random to maintain some realism in our stories.  Also adding middle names is not something I consider often unless it's essential to the plot, but it does add more realism as well.

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25 minutes ago, Superpride said:

 

I heard of name generators, but I never considered using one.  However, I might use the one you provided and then alter the name generated to my liking, so it's both random and of my own creation as well.  Thank you.

It’s great for background characters, I find. I needed a whole bunch of classmates for my characters in Storms, as well as teachers and so on. Some of these are never named in the story, but suddenly they’re needed. I’ve also used it a lot for surnames. 

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29 minutes ago, Superpride said:

Yeah, I like the idea of transforming names into something that is both foreign and familiar at the same time for fantasy stories.

I almost always try to ensure my fantasy names are only one or two syllables, too, to ensure ease of pronunciation for the reader (and to make it easier for me to remember, too!).

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17 hours ago, Thorn Wilde said:

It’s great for background characters, I find. I needed a whole bunch of classmates for my characters in Storms, as well as teachers and so on. Some of these are never named in the story, but suddenly they’re needed. I’ve also used it a lot for surnames. 

Quick addition to this: The one in Scrivener gives you 50 names. I often pick given name and surname from different names.

It might give me:

 

Samuel Johnson

Carter Long

 

And I may go, hm, Samuel Long sounds like a chill bro.

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On 1/15/2019 at 4:46 PM, Krista said:

I am one of those authors that stress over names... but not really in any meaningful way. I do want them to have nice names and there are certainly some that I have blacklisted just because I've never liked them. I typically skim baby naming websites to get naming ideas for characters. I do sometimes name my characters loosely based on the theme. If there's a religious sub-plot there will likely be a name somewhat related, like Christian, Grace, Johnathan for examples. They were in one story and they all had biblical/religion-ish names. Otherwise, I don't put a lot of thought into them, I don't look up meanings or anything like that. :) It would be interesting to possibly play around with a story where characters are pretty strict with what their name meanings are. 

This is more in line with how I think about naming characters.  I don't really care that much about the meaning of names, as long as I like the way they sound.  I will sometimes check social security lists to make sure a name is age appropriate.  I work in a clinic, and sometimes the name of a patient or doctor will catch my eye as well.  If I have a name for a minor character that I will only use once or twice, or require a surname, I will sometimes use a name generator.    

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On 1/18/2019 at 6:51 AM, Thorn Wilde said:

Quick addition to this: The one in Scrivener gives you 50 names. I often pick given name and surname from different names.

It might give me:

 

Samuel Johnson

Carter Long

 

And I may go, hm, Samuel Long sounds like a chill bro.

 

That's a great idea of switching the first name and surnames given for a full name that matches with your tastes.  😋

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3 hours ago, CassieQ said:

This is more in line with how I think about naming characters.  I don't really care that much about the meaning of names, as long as I like the way they sound.  I will sometimes check social security lists to make sure a name is age appropriate.  I work in a clinic, and sometimes the name of a patient or doctor will catch my eye as well.  If I have a name for a minor character that I will only use once or twice, or require a surname, I will sometimes use a name generator.    

 

Yeah, I can find a first name and surname that have a deep meaning, but if they don't sound right together, like if they doesn't flow right off my tongue, then they're scrapped.  And you're right about giving a name depending on the character's generation; a millennial named Gertrude just wouldn't fit.  😆

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  • 3 weeks later...

The names of my characters may be iterations of names I've known from my past or mutations of names I enjoyed from other stories. Sometimes, they just come to me because my character tells me their name. This is where psychosis helps. Psychosis is the art of hearing voices in your head. The difference from a writer and other psychotics is that writers put their hallucinations down in writing. :)

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My problem is when a character comes into my head fully formed, with a name already, but then I realise that I already have another character in another story with the same name. Renaming a character that's already named is nigh impossible. For minor characters it's no big deal, but when it's a protagonist, antagonist, or a major supporting character, it gets really weird. I can tell them apart just fine, but I feel like people who read multiple stories of mine may be confused, or it'll seem lazy, lol!

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I was recently reading an excellent article named 10 Points on Plotting and the first point was that nothing should happen at random, and it actually mentioned names.  "To test the significance of an element, ask:  Why this place and not another?  Why this name and not another? Why this action, this speech and not others---or none at all?"

 

I started a new project a few weeks ago.  I have also taken up exercise again after having stopped for several months.  I was thinking about the new project while working out to distract myself from the screaming of my muscles.  The main character in this story is a person that I don't really like that much.  My dislike for him was about as high as my dislike of my exercise instructor when she yelled "Jacks!"

 

So now I have a character named Jack.  

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For me, it depends on the story and where I am heading for the future. Some characters are named with thought in mind, other characters are named due to personal association based on experience, and lastly there are just characters I don't know how I came up with their name.

 

In the novel, I am working on right now, my main character's name came very organically, because his name is organic :P

 

I was reviewing the simplest names for food and nutrition, then I saw the word for natural sugar.

 

When I read up on "Glucose", I instantly fell in love with the idea of naming a character after this fundamental organic sugar that all human life needs to survive. It is the perfect name to mirror my character's development. However, trying to make a name out of glucose was extremely hard. Then, I found out, hey, Glucose has a second name, Dextrose.

 

Thus, Dexter was born in my story.

 

 

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On 3/19/2019 at 5:59 AM, W_L said:

Some characters are named with thought in mind, other characters are named due to personal association based on experience, and lastly there are just characters I don't know how I came up with their name.

 

This is exactly how it works for me. The name sometimes needs to be an interesting hook, one of my pivotal main characters is named Aeriol, another Mayaan, but other characters have more common names, Max, Nathan, Alex, Nadia, and Alex is due to a personal association. I also like nicknames, short versions friends call each other, so Mayaan gets called May, and Nadia, Nads. All the character names are thought about, but they don't necessarily have any significance such as a meaning behind the name. The character's personality is developed in the novel and comes to fit the name.

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On 1/17/2019 at 1:00 PM, Superpride said:

 

I heard of name generators, but I never considered using one.  However, I might use the one you provided and then alter the name generated to my liking, so it's both random and of my own creation as well.  Thank you.

I use name generators for my fantasy stories and modify them to fit the character and story.  I find they tend to give me root words I might not have thought of otherwise. 

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8 hours ago, Valkyrie said:

I use name generators for my fantasy stories and modify them to fit the character and story.  I find they tend to give me root words I might not have thought of otherwise. 

I do this as well when I'm stuck for a name.... or I will go to a baby site and put in some strange (to me) nationality to get a wider range of possible names

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