Author Topic: How do you choose names for your characters?  (Read 539 times)  

Offline ForeverQuestioning

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How do you choose names for your characters?
« on: October 15, 2020, 12:37:17 pm »
How do you choose names for your characters?

Do you take the meaning into consideration?

My only rule, really, is to avoid names that end with an "s," because they can be awkward to read. Though I love the names James, Louis, and so forth, I'm unlikely to choose them.

One of my personal pet peeves as a reader... is to see ten complicated names within the first few pages of a fantasy! I always wish fantasy names were simple. And the overuse of names drives me bonkers. Cities, palaces, schools, districts. I find it distracting, don't you?

Anyway, I'm trying to choose names for my characters. I find myself browsing the internet, simply looking for short names that "click" with whether or not the character is a protagonist/villain, smart or not so much, stiff or silly. For example, William and Willy have two different flavors.

And I try to avoid names that have been used in abundantly-successful franchises, such as Bella and Edward.

What's your method?
« Last Edit: October 15, 2020, 12:47:52 pm by ForeverQuestioning »

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    Offline ImaWriter

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    Re: How do you choose names for your characters?
    « Reply #1 on: October 15, 2020, 12:56:47 pm »
    https://www.fakenamegenerator.com/

    I often use that. And keep randomly creating names until I find a first / last name combo i like.

    It's also good for names for those with different ethnicities. 

    But sometimes i make up my own.  like what I'm currently writing. I had childish nicknames that the characters had for each other as kids and had to create real names based on them. That was actually fun and a little mind-bending.

    And I've never thought of names ending in s being awkward, so that doesn't create a barrier for me.

    Offline LDB

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    Re: How do you choose names for your characters?
    « Reply #2 on: October 15, 2020, 02:52:39 pm »
    As a reader it makes a work measurably less readable if names are too similar like Max and May or Louis and Louise or whatever and if names are too "unique" whether ethnic or regional or whatever. The idea is probably to make the work more exotic or memorable or unique or whatever but it often doesn't.
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    Re: How do you choose names for your characters?
    « Reply #3 on: October 15, 2020, 04:48:27 pm »
    I cheat and use a lot of names of people I know.  The only problem is later if that person does read a thing they are like, wait, is this what you think of me?  And sometimes I have to say, well it's just a good book name, and sometimes I have to say, well kinda yeah.  But I think everyone gets that it's all in good fun.

    But if that doesn't work I start to think about musicians I like or somebody that I enjoy in the world.  A lot of time it helps down the line too because I can use a little bit of that person's personality to help round out the character.  Heh, I guess I like having a real world basis for characters and use the names to get the ball rolling.

    Offline jm2019

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    Re: How do you choose names for your characters?
    « Reply #4 on: October 15, 2020, 07:21:21 pm »
    I don't have a huge problem because my books are not fantasy, and I often use names of real people (ancient world). Many of my characters end with S but it hasn't been an issue.

    Apart from the principal characters, I tend to follow some rules

    - name them with different starting letters

    - preferably short names, and no use of hyphenated two-part names

    - when possible, I don't use names at all for transient characters or short scenes, so I keep the # of names used controlled

    - avoid using many characters in my scenes so there's no name soup, there's usually only 2-3 names in a chapter

    has worked out OK so far, no one's complained (not in betas, not in reviews)

    Offline zeedaye

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    Re: How do you choose names for your characters?
    « Reply #5 on: October 16, 2020, 12:33:46 am »
    I like to have a little alliteration or consonance. Also, I like catchy names. Sometimes I twist up a common name, or go very unisex with a male character, eg. Ashley

    For fantasies, I like four syllables for the first name and one simple surname. I like the rhythm of names so I keep saying it out loud, chopping and mix and matching until it catches in my head.

    A very good idea is to use an Atlas. Well, I guess, google maps in this day and age. You can find a lot of towns and villages that'll sound like good names.

    Keep an Evernote shortcut on your phone if you watch international sports and just make a little list of names that stick with you, so you'd have your own stockpile. I'm still waiting for the opportunity to name someone "Enner" or "Eidur"


    Offline WegR

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    Re: How do you choose names for your characters?
    « Reply #6 on: October 16, 2020, 01:30:24 am »
    I have three main sources of names, mixing and matching forenames and surnames:

    * contemporary phonebooks for the area I'm writing about (picked up from fleamarkets)
    * obituary ads in local newspapers
    * and for the surnames of minor characters, I sometimes just use Openstreetmaps or similar to zoom in on the local town and pick out the names of independent stores.

    And when I need a name from a culture I'm not familiar with, a google or wikipedia search for well known people from that country can provide some inspiration.

    I keep a list of likely sounding names from the above sources, and try them out for a fit when creating my characters.

    As others have noted - names ending in s can be problematic (possessive apostrophes), and names that sound or are spelt similarly (particularly the first syllable) can be confusing.

    Since many of my names are from languages other than English, I prefer to use short ones to make it easier on my readers.


    Offline jb1111

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    Re: How do you choose names for your characters?
    « Reply #7 on: October 16, 2020, 01:43:51 am »
    I try to make sure that the names of characters in my books are different from each other to not cause confusion, and memorable or snappy enough to make it easier for the reader to remember them while reading the book. Last names matter less than first names, because you tend to use the first names more often throughout the story.

    I try to have them match the character somehow, either in tone or era when the person was probably born. Certain eras in the US, a lot of names were more popular.

    That's about it, really.

    Offline Louise Bates

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    Re: How do you choose names for your characters?
    « Reply #8 on: October 16, 2020, 06:03:20 am »
    For historical stories, I look up the top 100 names from the years my characters would have been born; even if I don't find a name I like in the list, it at least gives me a feel for what names will sound and feel right. For names that have a specific cultural flavor, I like to visit Behind the Name. If I'm writing fantasy or sci-fi, a lot of the names there can be adapted with a small twist to something unique but not too far out there. I do like when possible to pick names that have appropriate meanings for the character, but sometimes I will sacrifice meaning to use a name that has the perfect sound and feel to it.

    And yes, I definitely try to avoid names that sound or look similar to each other. I realized in my current WIP, a middle grade fantasy set in the real world, that all my characters have one-syllable names or nicknames, and two of them start with "T." It makes sense for the nicknames to be one syllable, but I need to go back and rename one of the "T" character something that starts with a different letter and is just a bit longer! She is currently referred to as "Aunt NN" (for "new name") in the project until I have a chance to find her the right name!
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    Offline Davidjb

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    Re: How do you choose names for your characters?
    « Reply #9 on: October 16, 2020, 06:05:01 am »
    I used anagrams on occasions. One was of the Mother in Law. She is called Moira. I named a witch after her - Ariome. She was not best pleased.

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    Re: How do you choose names for your characters?
    « Reply #10 on: October 16, 2020, 11:03:58 pm »
    I actually use all my family and relative's name, some with slight variations. It's my best tactic to immortalize them and they all get a charge out of it. It's my sneaky way to hog-tied them into reading the books. I even add major points of their personalities into the story-line. Makes for very interesting and diverse reading. They end up competing against each other to see who tops the other in importance to the plot, and figuring out if they are good or evil participants. Of course, I chuckling on the sidelines. 
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    Offline Doglover

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    Re: How do you choose names for your characters?
    « Reply #11 on: October 16, 2020, 11:12:53 pm »
    Who are Bella and Edward?

    Mostly, I write historical novels so I have to be sure the names were in use back then. As they always used to say in creative writing books, before Peter Pan, nobody was called Wendy. What will always stop me from reading further is to find in a story set in the middle ages, someone with a name straight out of Dallas or Dynasty.

    But generally, I use names I like for my heroes and heroines and names and I don't like for the villains.


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    Offline Nicholas Andrews

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    Re: How do you choose names for your characters?
    « Reply #12 on: October 17, 2020, 01:52:39 pm »
    The way I came up with a lot of city/town names was to combine names from real life places that match the culture of the location in question. For example, I have a town called Ryvetsk which combines two Russian locations (probably Ryazan and something else). I have a country that is sort of an Egyptian/South American Indian amalgam, and I got the capital's name, Inya, literally by combining Inca + Maya. The city Orrigo means 'source' or 'origin' in Latin, which has significance for some of my main characters, so that was ripped straight from a real word. There's a castle called Brookbel, which is a reversal of my own hometown, Bellbrook.

    Some character names started off as something simple and got additions during the writing process. Eris became Erris became Nerris, for example. Len-Ahl was just a name I thought sounded cool, and later on I decided it was an abbreviation of her much longer name, Lenitiahllissa, which was created basically by just letting my fingers run wild on the keyboard. Qabala is a straight up alternate spelling for the Kaballah.
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    Re: How do you choose names for your characters?
    « Reply #13 on: October 17, 2020, 05:10:38 pm »
     When I was younger I collected baby name books. I would pour through each book, circling each name that I liked. Then I'd write them all down, cut them up, and devote hours to creating super large families. So I have a lot of names just hanging out in my head now.

     I also use the names of people I know, a lot, and I still enjoy perusing popular name websites/books, for fun.
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    Offline RockWhitehouse

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    Re: How do you choose names for your characters?
    « Reply #14 on: October 17, 2020, 06:15:54 pm »
    For regular US names, I generate them in Excel from a census list of the 1000 most prevalent first and last names. It's a formula, so I just keep hitting F9 until I see one that works.

    If I need something specific (i.e. I needed a Polish girl from Cleveland in Book #3) I used behindthename.com or namegenerator.com. I've also used some of the online 'Most Popular Baby Names of 20xx' lists, too, to get something different.

    SF alien names I create programmatically.

    I second what others have said about avoiding names that are too similar. I have too many with the same first letter, I think, so some of them will drop out of the plot as time goes on.

    If time goes on, that is. 

    Offline jvin248

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    Re: How do you choose names for your characters?
    « Reply #15 on: Yesterday at 05:39:11 am »
    .

    When writing first drafts of some stories I'll use placeholder simple names where later on I'll find more creative replacement names.

    Popular names lists for a certain time period are useful.

    SFF names are made up. Sometimes they turn out well, sometimes not, and sometimes search and replace gets used a few times.

    I'm deep in a SFF series currently and I have a few recurring minor character names I've since decided I don't like but can't change because they have been in previously published novels of the series.

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    Offline wearywanderer64

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    Re: How do you choose names for your characters?
    « Reply #16 on: Yesterday at 01:30:51 pm »
    I use names that I can remember easily. If they're from a different time or country, I google the most common names of that period/country.


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    Offline Wayne Stinnett

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    Re: How do you choose names for your characters?
    « Reply #17 on: Today at 02:42:03 pm »
    Try www.fakenamegenerator.com. It not only creates names, but complete fake bios, based on your input of ethnicity, national origin, sex, and age. Just because Chloe is a popular name today, doesn't mean it was in 1965.
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