Wednesday, September 03, 2014

How Do You Name Your Characters?

Parents and pet owners usually only have to face the dilemma a few times in a lifetime. But authors deal with it on a regular basis--sometimes even every few months. The dilemma? Coming up with names for fictional characters.


While you may spend much more time anguishing over what to name your new baby, you'll be faced with coming up with unique, original names on a regular basis as an author of fiction. As if it weren't hard enough, you then hear statements like this:


A name doesn't always just pop into your head when you think of a character. Your characters aren't pets. You can't just name them based on a physical trait.


In the old days, authors turned to the Yellow Pages or a baby naming book to find inspiration. I even used to keep a list in a notebook of unique names I heard. When it was time to name a character, I then went down the list, trying out names to see if anything fit.


Now there are websites that help you come up with first and last names. If you're looking for a popular first name, you just choose a name from the year the character was born. However, those lists aren't the best at hitting you with original names. For that, you could use a name generator...


But will that necessarily give you the best name? You could spend all day generating names and still not find one that fits.

How do you name your characters? Do you keep a list of cool names or do you use the internet?

65 comments:

  1. I never knew that naming is a hard deal but looks like it is a great deal in fact for writers. Repeating the names of characters in earlier books isn't do good for readers. Thanks.

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  2. Ages ago, I remember looking up soap opera character's names in a baby naming book that listed meanings of names. The names' meaning always did seem to fit the characters, so I figured I learned their secret.

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  3. I take about thirty minutes randomly coming up with alien sounding names and then match them to characters. (Advantage of cueing a science fiction author!)

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  4. I'd imagine the decision of what to name characters must be a hard one! Honestly it may be as difficult as naming one's child, since that character will live on as long as books are in existence.

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  5. I few weeks back, I wrote a fiction on the dust bowl, and I took a couple of days to 'pick' a name for my 'character'. I can understand this post very well.

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  6. I agonize over this and don't have a good method. I have to make sure I don't name multiple characters with similar sounds because sometimes I get on a roll.

    Yvonne

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  7. I have scrap papers filled with names I've come across - some first names, some last names, street names, place names etc. If it strikes me for some reason, I jot it down. I might end up not using them but I like having them around. :)

    Madeline @ The Shellshank Redemption

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  8. Naming my four kids was based on names my husband and I liked at the time but all my pets have been named pretty much on their character and behaviors.
    The same with naming my calves. It's usually by appearance and behavior because there are so many of them and I can recognize them better if the name describes them but naming a character for a book can must be challenging indeed.

    I always love reading your interesting posts. SAlways food for thoughts.
    Hugs,
    JB

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  9. i'd struggle with that, for sure! some of my pets have gone nameless for a couple of weeks until something 'pops'. :)

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  10. Great topic! Usually, I already have a name in mind for my main characters, but for minor characters, I often use online websites that list names with their meanings.

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  11. I usually peruse online baby naming sites. I also enjoy searching by language origin, or name meaning. I always notice cool and unique names during movie credits, too. Sometimes I check through IMDB for cast and actor names (then mix up first and last names) just to see what grabs me.

    I should start a list of interesting names, although most of the time, the name has to fit (what makes it fit, I don't know--it either does or it doesn't) so I can't just pick something randomly.

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  12. I've never had to choose a name but I do love unique and interesting names..

    I would have to keep a list of interesting names I might have heard and then I could go through them so as not to repeat a name :)

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  13. I've written non-fiction for years so naming characters was not an issue, but I recently began writing short stories and naming characters is harder than I imagined.
    Thanks for this post and thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving a comment.
    Rick

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  14. I was editing my novel recently and realized that I had two characters with the same name. Now if that ain't lazy I don't know what is! Sometimes I'll just have a placeholder name until I can figure something out, but truthfully, it's all intuitive for me. I pretty much just sit there until the "right" name pops into my head. It's time consuming, but hey. It's worked so far.

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  15. haha I love this--I usually just randomly hear names I like and jot them down, then use them when I start writing something new. When I named my cat 21 yrs ago I named her before I even met her (Pudding Skittles--it's easy to name pets when you're 10!) recently I just had a really hard time coming up with a name for my new kitten, nothing fit. but she has a thing for sitcoms so I went with Penny from Big Bang Theory (full name, Penny Belle)--but she really had a fixation with the George Lopez show and I knew that name was not going to cut it ha. So sometimes it's process of elimination too!

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  16. I am always writing down names. We have a gas station near our house that features about 5 names per day (celebrating b-days). I listen to my teen sons converse with their friends. One thing I've learned is to not make a character's name too complicated or hard to pronounce unless you're planning on giving him a nickname right away!

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  17. I'd not even thought of this. Looks like it's a bit work getting the right name.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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  18. Since I write stories with setting all over the world, I choose character names based on the country they are visiting. It takes a little research, but it usually works out pretty well.

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  19. You make a great point and I am certain a major girl in your book will not be named after a girl you used to know and disliked:) I am also certain that few will name their character Apple or Moon Unit because that is just plain ridiculous:) I named my dog Wallace because he is such a scaredy-cat and phobic of the outside that I knew he overcame great obstacles in Louisiana so he is named after William Wallace. I love unique names (who'd a thunk with my name) so I would always pick something a little more unique

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  20. I go with the first one that pops in and if i can't think of one, I hit a bunch of buttons on the keyboard and make the first name I find out of the letters lol

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  21. My characters really do name themselves. Or other characters name them. I always have one in my head, and just imagine that one talking to one of the others and calling them. Tada, they're named, haha.

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  22. This is really hard. If the story I'm writing has some historical facts, I try to stick with what was popular at the time, however unoriginal it may seem. If the story was inspired by a real fact, I try to stay close to the names of the real people. And if the story is a kind of homage or inspired by someone else's work, I use the names of people connected to that source (the first gothic story I wrote used names of classic gothic writers and their known family). However, it has happened to me that I start naming a character in some way, and then half-way the story, without realizing, I change the name. In those cases I always stick with the second one.

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  23. Mostly from my wonderful insane imagination. What can really be tough is naming a character you are ghostwriting for someone. I don't always think about it but you need to pick a name that will satisfy someone else for work that will not be yours.
    IWSG Co-Host

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  24. For Bella's Point (set after the Civil War), I used a site that listed popular names based on the year. For my contemporary novels, I often head to facebook and ask people to name a character. They love it and I love it. So many creative people out there!!

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  25. Oh it must be really difficult to choose the names, it's true. An author made a post on my blog about that and I realized how complex it was.

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  26. I go mad when I have to name my characters. MG fiction based in schools are not easy on the name front as there are truckload of characters to name. And I can't write until and unless I have named all my characters.

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  27. I did have a list of possible names for cats... since I've always had a cat for a pet... those are usually the craziest of names.... My current cat is called Ignatius...

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  28. For the men I use short first names and longer last names.

    Grant
    Cage
    Kyle
    Jet
    Cass
    Jase

    For the women I like more than one syllable names.

    Kelly
    Jessica
    Harriet
    Julia
    Priscilla



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  29. My newest characters are British, so that took some thinking. I ended up visiting the British name site, which helped a lot. It's a challenge coming up with the right name. Sometimes I change them 3 or 4x before the name feels right.

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  30. I've never used a website or name generating device to come up with character names, although that does sound like a good idea. Names just kinda come to me. Then again, I've only written one novel...

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  31. Sometimes the names just pop into my head and fit perfectly other times I spend ages finding just the right one! I have used various name generators and sometimes they can be quite funny!

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  32. I used to keep names, but quit a long time ago. I start with the key trait of the character, or symbolism I want related to them. I'll look up names that incorporate that aspect. Then I focus on ethnicity/history. What would be a realistic name for someone born into these specific circumstances? Usually I do stumble across the exact right name, although there have been times I just inserted "NAME" into the manuscript until I narrowed it down to the right one.

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  33. I have a very hard time coming up with names. My characters tend to get renamed a few times.

    Have you ever sat and watched the credits of a movie? Lots and lots of interesting names.

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  34. I have nothing to offer here. I'm not a writer, just an enthusiast, lol.

    For cartoon characters, it's easy. Just choose something ridiculous and embarrassing.

    My sons were assigned ridiculous names for anonymity; when my oldest hears he is Juggernaut, I'll get heck (he is ridiculously tall). My middle son is Magoo, because he does a voice that sounds like Mr. Magoo to me. And my youngest is Gonzo, because he is go go go.

    So, characteristics drove those decisions.

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  35. Hmm. I don't know, really. It's just a process. Sometimes trial and error, sometimes, bada-bing, baby.

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  36. I love using websites like babynames.com and searching for significant meanings.

    Sarah Allen
    (From Sarah, With Joy)

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  37. That would be an interesting dilemma on what to name your characters. I just know namely the two kids, I wanted good solid days that were easy to spell and pronounce :)

    betty

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  38. Good topic. Names are tough. I keep a list and when I run across a name I like, I add it to it.

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  39. Maybe I've not written that many stories as I don't remember having a difficult time thinking of names for my characters. Though I usually choose names of people or kids I used to teach who are similar in some way to the character I am writing. I also tried once to look up some names on the web.

    Thanks for dropping by my blog. Hope to hear more from you :)



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  40. This truly would be so hard for me. It was torture for me to name my girls because I wanted them to have good strong names that weren't too common but not too odd ball. I don't know how you all do it!

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  41. I look up name origins. I like to have character qualities in mind first, and then I search for a name that fits those.

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  42. I work w/the public, so whenever I see a name I like, I jot it down. I've used several so far! And speaking of pet names, my son just got some fish. He named the yellow one Popcorn, all on his own too! I think that's pretty good at two and a half. =)

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  43. I've never had to name a character but I've named a lot of cats! Haha.

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  44. Hmm, interesting. To be honest I haven't given this any thought ..... until now.
    Mind you I'm weird in that with one of our cats I liked the name Phog and so chose a grey cat. Currently liking the name Chivers I'm trying to persuade my husband to buy me a marmalade cat.

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  45. I love tween and children's book. I am happy u left comment on my blog so I could come check ur blog out. What a lovely surprise!!! I will definitely be checking out ur books. Too cute.

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  46. Hi, Stephanie,

    Some good suggestions here. I usually research names when I write fantasy and search those via google. There are tons of websites to help find cool names for characters that have mythological/elemental meanings...

    For contemporary, I just pick what I like...

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  47. We can't name characters after physical traits??? Darn! Actually, that's usually where I start (well, personality traits - not physical) and see if there's an interesting name that corresponds. But that's not usually the one I choose. The search spirals out from there.

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  48. Oh wow. Thanks for sharing this. I'm not into writing fictional stories yet but this is a helpful post. I learn something new.

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  49. I use websites a lot. My favorite is Behind the Name. I often give them a first or last name that has a meaning that fits their personality. Sometimes names just pop in my head, they feel right for the character. I once had a character who's name I kept changing, and it was a sign that I didn't really know who she was. :)

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  50. I recently changed the first name of my character after working on my WIP for almost two years. His name was just too common. So, I just closed my eyes and thought for a minute and used the first name that came to mind when I pictured him in my head. But, my other characters I had to hit the internet for unique Italian names.

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  51. When my boys were in school, I would pull out their school directory to find unique names. I still have a copy or two for this purpose. I also used the internet, social media, celebrities, and my family who I hit up with a "Quick, what's the first name that pops in your head when you think of XYZ."

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  52. Some characters are named after names I like.

    Others are named after people who have ticked me off ;)

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  53. I'm not sure how I picked my original character names for my novels. But now that I've been diverging from my novels, I've had to think up new names and that's been tough. I usually look at baby names and their meanings.

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  54. This is awesome. I was just starting to draft my NaNoWriMo novel and wondering what to name my MC, I am going to check out your generator link
    Missie @ A Flurry of Ponderings

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  55. For my children's books, I usually use names I love, current children's names, or sometimes, I name my characters after kids I have come into contact with and left memorable impressions on me. For my novel, I did some research on the area it is based in and found a lot of Irish and Scottish decent. I also researched current names as well as names from years ago and went from there. Several times, I had to change their names because the character was too strong or just not fitting the name I originally gave to him or her.

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  56. I guess it can be a challenge, they are your babies after all so their names should be memorable to a degree. I didn't know about the yellow pages, that's nifty!

    P.S. Yes, PNR stands for Paranormal Romance

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  57. How funny with the Yellow Pages! I usually just name a character based off of what first pops into my head, but then I'll change the name and try to have deeper meaning behind it. And so happy to be following you now--I've obviously been missing out! Fab blog. :)

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  58. I've never came up with a name so far which stayed. I keep changing it!

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  59. I have a character naming book that has a bunch of names grouped by country. It includes nicknames, origins, and meaning. I also sometimes use the programs from my nieces and nephews events to see what people are naming their kids these days.

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  60. I use what pops into my head, or I request assistance. A blogger friend named Willy Dunne Wooters. It's the perfect name for him.

    Love,
    Janie

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  61. Sounds interesting. Maybe I should really consider giving names to my "murdered victims" :)

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  62. I certainly have not written enough stories to have anguished greatly, but I have learned from studying TV characters, that names can mean far more than just a name. Some of the most popular character names also have meanings based on the personality of the character. It can depend on audience too. Writing a kids book you might use alliteration or rhyming to make the name memorable.

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  63. We just announced our baby's name (Pemberley Olivia) and had to fend so many questions! It's from Pride and Prejudice, which is partly why I love it. I'm also already annoyed with people looking at me like I mispronounced "Kimberly"...I picked the name, I know how to say it!!

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  64. I have a short list when I think up or encounter a cool name to use. Mostly I use a baby name book if the character doesn't "tell" me what his or her name is. But yeah, I've surfed to a few of those generator sites as well.

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  65. I often use the US Social Security Baby names website. It's a great resource, especially when you need generational names. But it's also helpful if you want to stay away from the most popular names since it lists the top 1000 names used for each year.

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