During our last prep-session, Roger and I were talking about how people select character names. We ackowledged that this is one of those things that differs from person to person, but is also one of our most difficult things as authors to accomplish. Names are a part of our characters identities, and we need to make sure we keep them in mind to make them complete.
How do you select names? Are there any resources that you use to find character names that you find helpful?
For me finding a character name is very difficult but important. I try to think about the personality of the character and find a name to match. At other times I need more, and I try to find a name that matches a trait that is important. For example, in one of my novels I had a character that was in a conflict patterned after original sin, so I named him Adam. In another the characters in my alternate world all were ancient, so their names were Latin.
Thanks, Frank. I have a lot more characters to name for my novel this year. I remember my first year (2003) when I didn't know about the unspoken rule about avoiding names that begin with the same letter. Of course, by the time I heard this, I fell in love with the names and couldn't change them...
Depends. I like uncommon names, mostly--there's just something about them that sticks with me.
Previous favorites of mine have been Penelope (Penny), Charlie, and an antagonistnamed Jonathan Stranger. His surname came from the phrase that gave me the story idea--"Mother always told me never to talk to strangers." I imagined the quote as being misremembered, and that it was referring to a specific person with the last name Stranger. From there I had to ask where such a phrase would come from, and his position as a mob boss more or less came to fruition.
Actually, looking back, most of my names could be considered dated. I've also had a Gretchen, this year I've got an Isabella. Gretchen's character was a motherly type, and Gretchen strikes me as an older name. Likewise, Isabella and Penelope both sounded like good names for femme fatales, which they are in their respective stories.
I find a surname I like and then put in the given name I'm planning on using and try to find records of real people with said name. All but one of my characters names were decided that way.
Last year I was writing something way more involved and each family, but especially the main one, had their own naming conventions or naming laws.I intentionally gave multiple characters similar names, or the same name, because I was trying to show how oppressive the naming laws were and drew attention to the confusion.
Being needed is over rated being wanted is what matters.
I guess I'm kind of an oddball among writers in that I don't typicallytry to make my character names "mean something."
Think about the people you know in real-life. If someone is named "Luke," does that mean they're alwayslifting spirits, bringing "light" into life? If someone is named Melody, is she automatically a good singer? The answer is most definitely no. In the real world, people tend to define their names, not the other way around. In my novels, I try to reflect this. Sure, Luke SkywalkerandHan Solo are awesome names that are also fitting for their roles, but think about names like Malcom Reynolds, Samantha Carter, Harry Potter, or even Buck Rodgers. The characters give these names their meaning.Thus, if I were writing a sci-fi story about a rag-tag band of space pirates, I would lean more towards the name Malcom Reynolds for my captain than Han Solo.
Last year was kind of an exception tomyusualstrategyin that most of my characters were named after birds or atmospheric phenomena somehow, (Falconwing, North, Tradewind, Cooper, Fowler, Cloudborn, Martin, etc.) This year is also shaping up to follow the "names with meaning"strategy, but that's only because I'm writing fanfiction this time and characters with deeply meaningful names are an already established trend.
I also pick names without worrying about their deep meaning. I try to vary them so I range through the alphabet, trying not to have more than two A-names before I have at least one J, K or L name. I also try to vary the number of syllables as well, 1, 2, 3. Whatever it takes to make it easier for them to be distinguished in the readers' heads.
I don't worry about surnames until the second draft, or sometimes the third.
I pay attention to meaning, but for me, sound and rhythym areusuallymore important.
To go with the 'Malcolm Reynolds' exaple, that's a name with a lot of strong sounds, especially set up in parallel--a pair of two-syllable names. It's normally a name that would go with a rigid, sure-of-himselfcharacter. He's not as straightforward as a one-syllable name, but not as refined (or pretentious) as a three-syllable name. Similar types of names are Baxter Stockman or Tyler Durden. They aren't characters that you expect to change much or be easily influenced--they are who they are. This particular namestarts with mal- a prefix usually meaning 'bad,' giving it some moral flexibility. Put it all together, and the name suitsa character who specifically and purposefully shuns the rules, but can't stop following his own code of ethics. He isn't someone that others guess to have a lot of depth straight off, and despite his struggles and contradictions, he always goes back to his core beliefs. Through the series, Mal's identity is repeatedly called into question, but it never really changes, even when he tries.
Of course, I don't always put that much thought into a name, especially in a first draft. Sometimes a character will be named [Nick's brother] for a long time. But when I'm trying out different names from a list or a generator, I like to pay attention to the sounds and syllabus, and whether they might match the character's personality--or mismatch in some interesting way. If I'm not sure, I imagine the character intruducing themselves in their own voice, and that usually either sounds "right," or doesn't.
I have fallen in love with the website www.behindthename.com, so that is my goto naming site. My big thing with names is getting the nationality right, if I know it. I'm not really big on names having meanings, because their parents couldn't have known what they were going to become back when they were born. That being said, I do sometimes make the SURNAMES meaningful, on the basis that back when THOSE were being handed out, the seers and mages could have foreseen their descendant's role in causing/preventing the apocalypse and basically flagged them so later mages would know to watch the family line because SOMEBODY in it was going to be important.
Yes, variety is the spice of life! Long names are alsogreat in that you can shorten them, and then use the long and short versions interchangeably so the reader isn't constantly reading the same name over and over.
I once named a character "Goat Boy" with the full intention of granting him a real name at a later date. Never happened. I just couldn't find a better-fitting replacement.To be fair, he was (is?)a demon that looked like a goat-human hybrid.
One of my favorite ways to pick out names is too go through the credits at the end of the movies. If I find I name I like, I search for variations and change the spelling. I also look at the names of bandmembers in music groups that I like and look for smiliar names.
It depends on the character. Some characters have very meaningful names that are allusions. Jonah in my novelInevitableis named after the Biblical Jonah and shares some (often unfortunate) character traits with him, and Jonah's mentor, Dr. Robert Miles, is named after Robert Frost and his poemStopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.
I've also named characters based on what their names mean, often trying to match them to a specific nationality. My current novel has a very multicultural cast and I wanted to reflect that in their names. I have a mixed-race girl who I named Carla, because the name is very popular with both African-Americans and Puerto-Ricans. Popularity is a big thing because I don't want it to be too obscure or strange, and especially for my characters in historical novels, I want to make sure the name makes sense with when the character was supposedly born. I have a character in the early 1860s named Tennessee because at that time a lot of girls were named after new territories and states, which reflects the idea of Manifest Destiny, and that works well into her character.
I have consulted a lot of baby naming and name meaning sites, enough that every time I start on a new character all of my ads on Facebook and the like are focused on pregnancy and newborns.