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Naming your characters

Discussion in 'Writer's Lounge' started by Jackie, 16 Jul 2018.

  1. Jackie

    Jackie Member

    What're your criteria when you're naming characters? Do you put a lot of thought into it or are you good with a name if it meets basic criteria (like gender, time period, genre, age, etc.)?

    I usually start off with that basic criteria and then look at the meaning/etymology of the names I come across. I fancy the idea of having character names that have a meaning true to the character but it's not something that I need. I don't need a name to mean "strong" so long as the name sounds strong, you know?

    I'll also make sure that the names of various characters aren't too similar to one another in order to avoid any confusion. I'll also avoid complicated spelling or names that are difficult to pronounce (unless it's a name that inevitably will be because of ethnicity or something).

    I remember reading those two tips long ago and I've used them as guidelines ever since. Are there any tips for naming characters that you've read or picked up over the years? Do you have any favorite resources?
     
  2. Zelda

    Zelda Member

    The most important thing to me is that the names fit the setting, including location and time period. If I'm writing about something in the past, I'll usually look through popular names during that time period in the particular region I'm writing about. Then I'll work from there.

    I look at the meaning of names as I'm trying to narrow down my list. Sometimes, the meaning will sell me on a particular name but I don't think a name's meaning has ever made me not choose it.

    I tend to avoid variants of popular names. I don't need Aimee when Amy will do, unless there's a good reason for it.

    I like alliteration for side characters because I feel like it helps people remember their names better. I try not to overdo that though. (It's a problem for me because I really love alliteration for some reason.)

    Sometimes I get ideas for names from the extensive credits lists at the end of movies. There are a plethora of names to choose from!
     
  3. jessica

    jessica Active Member

    What about baby name books:p?
     
  4. Honeybee42

    Honeybee42 Member

    Baby name books are good sources if they're not the "dictionary style" that tell you things like the name means "bald" or "crooked nose" or something silly like that. Some of the ones I like are The Baby Name Wizard (which, as a bonus, throws in sibling names with each entry. Funny enough, my actual name and my brother's name are listed as possible sibling names).

    Or any of the variations "Beyond ___ & ____" name books by Linda Rosenkrantz and Pamela Redmond Satran (pairs "Jennifer & Jason", "Madison & Montana", and "Ava & Aiden"). I like the ones that give you a rough idea of what sort of image most people get when they hear/read a name.
     
  5. Zelda

    Zelda Member

    Of course, baby name books, too!

    I really like the Behind The Name website too. I love poring over the comments section and seeing what kind of reaction it gets from everyone. It's a great tool for surnames too which is always a plus. I usually only use it when I've got a narrowed down list though since it's much easier to flip through a book when you have no idea what you want.
     
  6. tirial

    tirial IT fixer extraordinaire

    For surnames, I have resorted to opening the phone book at random places and stabbing a finger down with my eyes closed. Sometimes it helps flesh out a character when there are things about their background I have not considered (e.g. how did someone with a double-barrelled name end up homeless?).
     
    Zelda likes this.
  7. Zelda

    Zelda Member

    Ah, phone books. Why have I never thought to use one? Ours usually gets pitched right into the recycling bin when we get it. That's an interesting way to flesh out a character too. Clever!
     

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