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How to come up names to your characters?

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 10:57 am
by NsKu
Simple question but is there a easy answer to it? Hopefully so.

I have this problem about character names. Nothing fits that's the usual problem for me. Am I too strict? :shock:
I may know exactly how this character speaks, walks, moves. How they dress etc. but I cant fit the name to those images.
So if there's some trick to overcome this please tell me. Or if you have good tips.

And can there be too stupid and unbelievable names?!

Re: How to come up names to your characters?

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 11:58 am
by Ahab
It depends on what you're writing. Your Avatar seems to indicate fantasy-type stuff? If there's some kind of mythological connection, then research historical names--Irish gods and goddesses, Japanese mythology, whatever seems appropriate it. If you work in the real world, or in its historical antecedents, then a stroll through a period-appropriate graveyard often provides ideas, harvesting a good last name here, a good first name there, and combining them in ways that seem like the sort of name your character might comfortably wear.

Re: How to come up names to your characters?

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 12:02 pm
by auxbuss
I suspect everyone does this differently, so hopefully you’ll get an assortment of replies.

The “fit” of character names is important to me too. Sometimes, I don’t know whether a name is going to work out until late in the story. So, I pick one, then move on. It’s not worth getting blocked by it. That would be a problem. I listen to my inner voice on this, because sometimes the annoyance isn’t glaring; just a niggle.

Short names work best for me – the same when I’m reading. I avoid surnames unless the story requires them, which immediately halves the problem \o/

In my writing notes, I have a section where I same names that I see or pop into my head, so I’ve a pool of names to rummage around in as a starting point at any time.

Finally, there are a few websites that might help. Randomly:


Re: How to come up names to your characters?

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 12:24 pm
by xiamenese
And no one mentions:

Screenshot 2018-10-13 13.12.32.png
Screenshot 2018-10-13 13.12.32.png (412.13 KiB) Viewed 5530 times


Mark

Re: How to come up names to your characters?

Posted: Sat Oct 13, 2018 5:10 pm
by NsKu
auxbuss wrote:I suspect everyone does this differently, so hopefully you’ll get an assortment of replies.

The “fit” of character names is important to me too. Sometimes, I don’t know whether a name is going to work out until late in the story. So, I pick one, then move on. It’s not worth getting blocked by it. That would be a problem. I listen to my inner voice on this, because sometimes the annoyance isn’t glaring; just a niggle.

Short names work best for me – the same when I’m reading. I avoid surnames unless the story requires them, which immediately halves the problem \o/

In my writing notes, I have a section where I same names that I see or pop into my head, so I’ve a pool of names to rummage around in as a starting point at any time.

Finally, there are a few websites that might help. Randomly:





First thank you for all.. this has been really helpfull :idea: I just realize that I just needed name that is unisex and I have found it. :idea:

I'm writing historical fantasy story. And my main character has past and present life. They are like day and night and that has given me a problem. When past life is very typical feminine type and other is like survivor more manly world. So two different personalities in same character.

Thank you :D

Re: How to come up names to your characters?

Posted: Mon Oct 15, 2018 2:16 am
by devinganger
I have a somewhat related problem -- I can't finish fleshing my characters out until I know their name. The name gives me the base direction to go searching for the rest of their personality.

Re: How to come up names to your characters?

Posted: Tue Oct 16, 2018 4:09 pm
by Hugh
Authors do this in all sorts of ways - apart, of course, from using the Scrivener name generator.

Famously, Ian Fleming took the name of James Bond from the author of a book about birds (probably on a shelf in the house in Jamaica, Goldeneye, where he wrote his novels). He wanted a blunt, plain name for what he saw as a blunt, plain character. I believe that he also named some of his villains (Blofeld and Scaramanga) after children he didn't like at school. Notoriously, another author whose name I forget takes names from porn actors (having first mixed up first names and surnames); the names of actors of any kind (again, when mixed up) have always seemed to me to be likely to be a good source (ready-equipped with portrait photos to stick in your character sheet). Other authors, I have read, look in the Births and Deaths columns of broadsheet newspapers, or take names, suitably disguised, directly from news stories. Lawyer, doctor and accountant nameplates in foreign cities seem likely to be yet another possible source.

But I've no idea where Bilbo, Frodo and Gandalf came from.

Re: How to come up names to your characters?

Posted: Tue Oct 16, 2018 8:22 pm
by pigfender
I have a theory that certain rhythms and syllable combinations work better for different character types in a novel. This theory is not based on any in depth psychological studies, nor is it drawn from an understanding of cognitive behaviour. It’s just a hunch (albeit a hunch that I follow for all my lead characters). It’s an extension of the idea that people are disproportionately convinced of arguments that come in threes.

So, names of the good guy main protagonist in a Pigfender story will have three syllables. To be precise they will have a two syllable first name and a single syllable last name.

For example:

Jas-on Bourne
Brid-get Jones
Rob-in Hood
San-ta Claus
Sher-lock Holmes

Other names make good ‘everymen’ or side characters… Contrast the blend in nice-guy ‘Clark Kent’ with his heroic alter ego ‘Sup-er Man’, or consider why ‘James Bond’ is a suitable name for a spy, but when his name is ‘Bond-James Bond’ he’s a hero.

I also award myself bonus points for using a first name that can be shortened to a single syllable when you want to humanise. This is why I recycle David / Dave and Michael / Mike a lot.

Okay it’s a load of old rubbish, but it’s my game so humour me.

Additional points are awarded for names whose meaning has relevance to their role in the story (you can search for those in the Windows version of Scrivener's name generator). A great example of this is in the film Gattaca:
Vincent... Conquering.
Anton... Worthy of praise.
Jerome... Holy one.

{recycled from an old blog post}

Re: How to come up names to your characters?

Posted: Wed Oct 17, 2018 5:26 am
by Siren
I have trouble with names in fiction. I barely notice them when I'm reading, and after I have finished reading a book I can seldom remember the name of any character I have met there. Names of fictional characters seem largely like placeholders for me. When I write (which is rare, these days), I'd almost prefer to use "A", "B" and "C" rather than "Adelaide", "Ben" and "Charlemagne" or whatever, unless writing about actual historical people.

Interestingly, the new Man Booker winner, Milkman, reportedly doesn't use names, but instead identifies each character by a descriptive tag. Its author Anna Burns is quoted in a Guardian article yesterday as follows:
“The book didn’t work with names. It lost power and atmosphere and turned into a lesser – or perhaps just a different – book. In the early days I tried out names a few times, but the book wouldn’t stand for it. The narrative would become heavy and lifeless and refuse to move on until I took them out again. Sometimes the book threw them out itself,”

It hadn't previously occurred to me that there was an option to simply not bother with names at all!

Re: How to come up names to your characters?

Posted: Wed Oct 17, 2018 6:41 am
by devinganger
Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, for one WIP (a near-future military sci-fi) I use lists of soccer player names from each country's national team. Then I mix and match as required.

Re: How to come up names to your characters?

Posted: Wed Oct 17, 2018 8:00 am
by Hugh
pigfender wrote:I have a theory that certain rhythms and syllable combinations work better for different character types in a novel. This theory is not based on any in depth psychological studies, nor is it drawn from an understanding of cognitive behaviour. It’s just a hunch (albeit a hunch that I follow for all my lead characters). It’s an extension of the idea that people are disproportionately convinced of arguments that come in threes.

So, names of the good guy main protagonist in a Pigfender story will have three syllables. To be precise they will have a two syllable first name and a single syllable last name...


Interesting... I've applied the Rule of Threes in many circumstances, but never this.

Re: How to come up names to your characters?

Posted: Thu Oct 25, 2018 6:33 am
by KyCoo
Naming a character is very important. Imagine if Tyrion Lannister was named something else like Roose Lannister, it may not have had the same impact would it?
My way of doing it is, when I write, I try to match the name with the characteristics of that character. Not physically, but nature.
I use flashcards to make it easy. I write down the character as I imagined them on one side and their name on the other.
It helps me to make quick changes as I write on.

Re: How to come up names to your characters?

Posted: Sat Feb 16, 2019 3:51 pm
by MosesGhostwriter
Hugh wrote:Authors do this in all sorts of ways - apart, of course, from using the Scrivener name generator.

...

But I've no idea where Bilbo, Frodo and Gandalf came from.



Tolkien got the word Hobbit possibly from a book that had been republished about the time he wrote and it was called The Denham Tracts. In volume 2 can be found the following list of magical creatures that had been said to be from times past: "Scarecrows, will o' the whisps, drakes, trolls...hobbits, hobgobglins..." where the 'hob' meant small in ancient Anglo-Saxon. Hobbit''s meaning has been lost but Tolkien invented his use of the word.
More to the point, in the book Elder Edda or Poetic Edda which is a collection of Old Norse myths and was an ancient text that was lost and then, in the 1800s was re-discovered in a farm house and it told stories of Norse, Viking, and Anglo-Saxon worlds. Probably read by Tolkien. And in it was a list of some people on a quest.
The names of those people were: Fili, Killi, Oin, Gloi, Bivor, Bavorr, Bomburr, Dori, Nori, Davlinn (which is pronounced with a w instead of a v, Blain, Dain, Nain, þorin {where þ is the old AS letter of 'thorn' which is vocalized like we do 'th'}, Eikinskaldi {which transliterated into English is Thorin Okenshield}, Gandalfr {which means, literally, wizard elf}. The people were dwarves except the last one which was an elf. The book, Elder Edda had nothing in it explaining the trip or the reason why they were all going on a quest or what they were looking for.
BTW: Beorn is a homonym of Björn meaning in Icelandic 'bear' and Tolkien is beholden to the tale of Beowulf, a word in Old Norse that means 'bear'.
Have not discovered source for Bilbo and Frodo. Others might contribute that information.