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How do you choose your characters' names?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by kdl121, Mar 26, 2017.

  1. kdl121

    kdl121 Dreamer

    Do you use symbolism or meaning for all your characters? Do you just do it for your protagonist? Do you make up your own names? Or do you just use names you've seen elsewhere that you like?

    I'm just curious, I do a combination of everything.
  2. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

    I go for meaningful names more often than not. Most of my stories have at least some ties to the real world, so I don't make up names very often. I just take names from the culture that fits (i.e. Irish or Welsh names for the Fae).
  3. Gurkhal

    Gurkhal Auror

    I'm a bit similar to Ireth in that I take names that I find from a real world culture. Can't say that I know what all of them actually means since I'm pretty bad at languages but I try to avoid making names up from scratch as much as I can.
  4. La Volpe

    La Volpe Sage

    I make up my own names, usually. Though sometimes I use regular names, depending on how my world feels, if that makes any sense.

    But, in general, I try to base each country on a language so that all the names kind of share sound patterns; i.e. that they sound like they come from the same place.
    E.g. Let's say I have barbarian wizards at war with elfin archers, I'd maybe base the barbarians' names on Russian sounds -- e.g. Devnik, Olev, Rejna, etc. -- and the archers' names on say, Italian -- e.g. Mezo, Girino, Tellini, etc. (apologies to any Russians or Italians if these names don't match up with the languages; I usually do some research beforehand, but this is just to illustrate a point).
  5. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

  6. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

    I don't get into the meaning of names much at all, unless there's a good reason. In my non Earth work, I do try to keep naming patterns cultural and that sort of thing, but the main thing is whether I like the name enough to read it a thousand times, heh heh.
  7. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    I don't go for meaning at all—but sometimes I've wondered if this is a weakness of mine. Maybe having a meaning behind the name would help my mind latch onto my character's personality/role/whatever better?

    I make names up. I have a few steps and considerations I use.

    My first step is to create a name that sounds good and looks good on the page and seems to "fit" the character. I have sometimes been incredibly frustrated when I have a name that sounds great—exactly what I wanted for that character!—but on the page it looks really bad or the pronunciation is impossible to make clear without making the word look bad. I figure readers are going to be seeing the name repeatedly; so, I want it to look nice. I don't go for clunky combinations of letters or arrangements too difficult or ambiguous for pronunciation.

    I generally stick with a set of "most common" letters, vowels, sounds for a culture when picking names within that culture. Usually this also means that some consonants don't appear within that culture, like "z" or "w" or "th," whatever.

    Next thing I do is run some Google searches to make sure the name isn't common, already used in some popular fiction, a popular brand name, etc.

    But I generally create fantasy worlds whole-cloth. If I wrote stories set in our world or heavily based on a culture from our own world, I might go about it differently.
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2017
  8. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    I make long lists of names that I get from mythology and history. Some characters just need a name that sounds good to me. (I have a hard time writing for characters if the sound of their name is off.) Some need the right sound and the right meaning, which is a bit harder. But I always know when I've struck on the right name because everything else about the character starts easily falling into place.
  9. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    This is a place where having live readers helps. For me, it's my local library group. We get together regularly and the evening opens with people reading passages from the work(s) under consideration. Watching people stumble over names you thought were perfectly obvious is worthwhile. Sure, you don't have to have your readers pronounce "correctly" but when the word or name brings the reader to a dead stop, that's probably bad.
  10. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    I just pick the ones that sound nice, match the feel of the character, and are historically/culturally accurate. For example, can I envision this powerful faux-European magician as Jennifer? Probably not. :)
    Ronald T. likes this.
  11. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    I choose names that sound and look good to me. Then I check to see what they mean in baby name dictionaries, to make sure they don't mean something that would be bad for the story. Sometimes I will take a secondary character trait, or a trait in opposition to the character's personality, and look it up in the baby naming dictionaries to get ideas, if I'm having a difficult time with naming a particular character. I seldom use a name whose meaning is in line with a character's primary traits.
  12. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    As a postscript to my previous post, I recently used the Presently Assembled to choose a character name. I had two in mind, couldn't decide.

    {Aside: when picking names, I "audition" them. That is, I write--notes or actual scenes--using Name A, and write others with Name B. I don't try to do anything rational, I just listen to them, feel them as I write the actual word. Usually one emerges.}

    So I presented both, with a bit of background for both, here on Mythic Scribes. People didn't much like either! And this was a good thing. It wasn't so much that I was trying to decide between two good names; I was trying to decide between two names that just did not work in this story.

    So Mythic Scribes sent me back hunting. I found a third and the community liked it. I've been auditioning the name and so far I'm comfortable with it.

    I guess the point of my combined posts is: get a second opinion.
  13. Michael K. Eidson

    Michael K. Eidson Archmage

    In my WIP, I chose a name for one of the non-POV MCs that means "noble" and "ready" according to some sources, and "battle" according to others. The character is anything but noble or ready for battle. He's pretty much the exact opposite of those things. His parents had high hopes....
  14. GypsyTraveller

    GypsyTraveller Acolyte

    oh goodness, my main is a character i've carried since I was a kid, I'm working to make sense of their name.
  15. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

    Usually I just use a real name and change it up a bit to match the phonology of that culture's language. For the last story, since the early chapters are set in the Oxus River Civilisation, I took Punjabi names and reversed the sound changes all the way back to Proto-Indo-Iranian. That was actually pretty fun.
  16. JRHardesty

    JRHardesty New Member

    What's in a name? Quite a bit, really, but for the most part, we make 'em up. Some resemble real-word names because we use real-world languages for inspiration. Some, however, are just flat made up, but no barbarians named Grek, or Brak (yes, I know), Khlahd, etc. Ewwwww.

    All names must look and sound good. Spelling might be fiddled with a bit to make them pronounceable, because as was noted above, if the reader can't pronounce the thing, you have a problem. You need enoug vowels in there to make it possible. I've seen some pretty nsty names that no normal human would have been capable of pronouncing.

    Years ago, I read a book by Lin Carter (please, no comment) that dealt with fantasy (it was a non-fiction work) and one of the things he discussed was creating names. He suggested just sitting down with a pad of paper and start writing down names as they came to you without judging them. Then, when done, review the list and eliminate the ones that don't look or sound right or are truly bad. Ben Deth Bar (one of my early attempts) was not good. My test reader started laughing. That startled me, as the story was serious, or so I thought. His comment to me was: "This Ben Deth Bar guy. What is he, a circus strongman?" Oooops! Changed that one in a hurry! That story is in the dust-bin of history where it belongs, so it no longer matters. It was naught but a bad Conan-type story anyway. *shudder* Leave that stuff to Howard, et alia.

    The next thing is to go over each name and decide whether it was a person, place or thing. I've done that a lot, as has my wife, but now....well names just seem to pop up of their own accord. One of the best names I ever came up with was from back then, about oh, 40 years ago. We are using it now. I dusted it off, presented to Jan and asked her if that one would work. It turned out to be the perfect name for the city my wife had conjured up and it is now enshrined in print. So, you never know when a name will be useful.

    Happy naming!

    Post Scriptum: What we as authors consider easily pronounceable can cause some readers to trip, stumble and fall. My sister doesn't read fantasy, and she had problems with about half our names and wanted to know the "proper" pronunciation. I told her, "Say it your way. That'll get you through the book. Worry about how we pronounce those names after you're dead." She got the point.
  17. Darkfantasy

    Darkfantasy Inkling

    I tend to copy reality. Each country has it's own names that fit. But as we've all become more connected we're starting to steal names from each other. It really depends on how connected your countries are. Like Aimee is a french name, but here in England we use it a lot. So I tend to look at how connected the are then I create a name that fits the language that the character uses.
  18. valiant12

    valiant12 Sage

    I like names that exist in the real world and names that could exist.
  19. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

    I love to invent original names, it's quite fun. For my fantasy world, I create names and place names and a few additional terms. I've got a list of extra unused names on hand if I need something quick-like. If I'm writing a real-world short story, I use real world names. Pretty straight forward I guess.
  20. I have no idea. :p

    My last main character ended up with the name Temerity. It's a fricking SAT vocabulary word. It's just a word I really like...There's an explanation for it in the story, but I didn't have an explanation for it when I came up with it. I think I thought "Huh, this word sounds like a girl's name."

    I should probably stop naming my characters after my favorite words...A dragon named Pandemonium is a bit weird, is it not?

    Yeah. Last book was just a mess of random names and random words I liked. (Many of which, including the MC's, are unfortunately apt.)

    In the project I'm taking a break from, I was more conservative with naming, which is to say I made up names myself rather than use random words...Unfortunately, lots of the names (including the villain's, the love interest's...) are copied in other books. So...not sure what I'll do about that.

    I never seem to think about meaning. With poor Temerity, I think the name helped make the character rather than the other way around.

    (Come on! The word sounds like a name. Admit it.)

    Helpfully enough, in my upcoming WIP, NONE of my characters HAVE names! (I'm going for a kind of distance from the story, as if you're looking at it through the dust of time and memory. I think it fits.) Fun way to circumvent the problem.

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