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Exercise on Creating Character Names

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Mathas, Jan 9, 2020.

  1. Mathas

    Mathas Dreamer

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    Greetings!
    Just thought I might share my technique for coming up with names for characters, instead of just using common names or thinking of the first interesting sounding combination that comes to you.

    One thing I tend to do is think of a common name, then play with vowel and sound arrangements to see how different things sound. For instance, Tobias could turn into Tobas, simply by dropping the "i", or Tomias by changing the "b" to an "m".

    I would also go and try to use translations of names from different languages, that may or may not be similar to the language that you want your characters to have, and then do the same thing. For example, the Irish for David can be either Daithi (Dohh Hee) or Dabhaid (Dohh Vid) and you could rearrange the letters and syllables, so Daithi could possibly turn into Duhith or Dithai. Similarly, Dabhaid could turn into Dovid or Daidvud.

    A woman's name could possibly go from something like Bethany to Bethen, or Bathyna etc.

    I think its an interesting exercise, however, I think it needs to be controlled so that names don't become too complicated or unpronounceable.
     
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  2. I have a couple of different naming conventions.

    1) I think about the culture's closest analogue in the real world. Suppose I have a guy from a frenchlike culture. I would name him something that sounds frenchish, but not necessarily just a rearranging of vowels. Like one character whose last name is Bertraud. Sounds french. Workse for me.

    2) This one is custom for a specific culture in a specific series. The children get a smashing of names of their parents. So, we have the first born son gets the first syllable of his father's name and the first syllable of his mother's name. The second son gets the second half of his father's name and the second half os his mother's. The order of names is reversed for girls (mother first then father). After the second kid, the parents just pick names, usually single syllabic but still related to the parent's names.
     
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  3. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    I use a great random name generator that works by breaking apart real names from various cultures (real or fantasy) and then recombining the parts together randomly. I've written about it before: Everchanging Book of Names. It's simply the best name generator I've ever found. Coming up with many names on-the-fly that look and sound like they could come from the same culture is very helpful.

    Sometimes however I take the results from that or simply from lists of names online and do the same sort of thing by hand. So for instance "Garren" + "Mathas" might give me Garthas or Matren. This helps when I find myself liking the sounds of some syllables/parts but not quite the whole name on a list. Plus it seems to result in larger numbers of unique or very uncommon combinations that sound and feel "real" to me, as if they could come from real people.
     
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  4. Mathas

    Mathas Dreamer

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    Thats really interesting, I will have a look at that.
     
  5. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    In real life, names are all over the place. So, part of naming characters is figuring out things like the linguistic and cultural diversity of the setting. Like, there are people in Anglophone cultures who have Latin-based names. In fact, I think the most common names in the English speaking world are Latin, Greek and Hebrew-based with Biblical names and all.

    Then there’s naming conventions and structure like if the family name comes first or if there’s a first name, family name, clan name, middle name, etc.

    I just have an anything goes attitude. So there’s Jonathan, Ronald, Lee but then there’s Zung, Demiurgus, Alyss but then there’s also Cherry, Sade and Tusk. There’s also a very minor character named “[email protected]%”. It’s all over the place but, you one, “variety is the spice of life”.

    My only advice for writers on names is to make it somewhat easy to pronounce. I hate seeing fantasy characters with names like Ahl’huraiy.
    Also, make names distinct from each other. It drives me nuts when stories have Ahrem, Akram and Ariken or whatever in the same story. It might make the setting more linguistically consistent but it also makes things way more confusing than it needs to be.
     
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  6. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Ah, that one's not so bad to pronounce, even if it turns out my guess isn't what the author intended.

    But it's very clunky and cluttered to my eyes. The visual aspect is also something to keep in mind, since readers are going to be seeing it constantly.

    For that reason, if it were mine I'd probably revise it even if I couldn't keep the sound I first imagined for it.
     
  7. My characters tend to be named whatever human name I like, possibly with an odd nickname, but I do have a few exceptions, like how most of my characters of my fictional Doppish race tend to have names in a naming language (but many of them go by easier to remember nicknames).

    One of my major side characters, Voodoo Blakesley, was actually born Kushyon Seytaderibus, which in my naming language means "soft soul reality stitcher". Kushyon is still technically his legal first name, but he chose to change his last name when he got married, so it's Kushyon 'Voodoo' Blakesley. I have the nicknames for most of the other Doppish characters picked out, but the Doppish language is still a WIP so most of them don't have their birth names and last names picked out. I'm planning on eventually making a naming language for the other unique race in my world, Rakoats.

    But most of my characters are just named with normal human names and possibly have nicknames. As some random examples with a mix of both main characters and side characters, we've got:
    • Lilliana 'Limes' Lyndon
    • Jasper Blakesley
    • Diane 'Psyche' Spiros
    • Kyanibi 'Kyan' Blakesley
    • Ophelia 'Fifi' Carhime
    • Karen Moorewinkle
    Many of my characters have bizarre nicknames due to being grandfathered in from way back when I was younger and used to be even crazier with the names.

    Whenever I start redesigning an especially old character for re usage, I either turn their old name into a nickname, or I give them a normal name that starts with the same letter as their old name. Sometimes both!
     
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