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Old 12-14-2010, 02:34 PM   #1
AgentBEATS
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How do you pick names?

I did a quick search and didn't find a topic so I figured it would be safe to ask. If I just happened to miss it I apologize for regurgitating topics.

How do you pick the names for characters in your writing?

I use to have the utmost difficulty picking out a name for a character, not even for whatever I was writing at the time but it started with picking a character name is some online game I was playing at the time. I would obsess for days trying to figure out the name I thought would fit the character best, of course there was the difficulty of it being taken that doesn't really happen in writing something.

Anyways, eventually it got easier. So much so that picking a character name for a game became pretty easy, although I continued to obsess and it carried over into my writing.

Picking a name for a character is an important task. It literally defines a character or at the very least is a part of it. Some people find it easier than others, some don't even give it a second thought. But for me my process of finding a name is rather random at best. Depending on what I am writing at the time, the name sort of just pops out at me. I would see or hear a name and just feel like it would fit, meaning the time it takes me is again random. I can't go through lists of names, such as at a baby names site, it just gets overwhelming and I can't decide because there is so many. I have to just wait it out until that one name jumps out at me. At least for first names, last names I found a pdf file awhile back that has a list of supposed last names for writers to use and usually I can find something off of that.

Anyways, the point of all this is I was just wondering, what is the process you guys go through to pick out character names? Obviously mine is not efficient in the least, but I can't see myself doing it any other way.
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Old 12-14-2010, 05:30 PM   #2
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I usually try to mash words together, or take a popular name and mash it together.

"Tathan", I came up with this one .. . . idk, I just did, lol

"Liselle", it's one of my favorite names ever. I don't remember where it came from, but I love it.

"Vevin", Yeah, not sure how I got that one, I think I just worked on different sounds and finally found one I liked.

"Sir Danth", Tried Sir- lots of different things. Ended up with Dan + th.

"Hulda" - Hilda with a U.

"Mariella" - name generator from the Neverwinter Nights game. Great name though.

"Anilyia" - google search for the least common spelling of that name sound.

Most of it's just guessing and putting different letters and sounds together. I spent some time as a DM, which gives a person the opportunity to make up a lot of names.
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Old 12-14-2010, 06:22 PM   #3
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At first, I pick a name I like the sound of, then adjust it if it doesn't suit the character. Then, I keep a list of the letters that each name starts with so that I don't end up with characters whose names are too similar. (I once critiqued a fantasy story that had names like Aisha and Alisha. I was always confused.)

Sometimes, when the right name doesn't come to me right away, I check baby name books and look up names based on their meanings. Or I use a placeholder name and pick a better name later.
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Old 12-14-2010, 06:24 PM   #4
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I also like John's idea -- take normal names and change them a little. Daniel can be Doniel or Dariel or Danien. I've used that technique, too.
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Old 12-14-2010, 07:39 PM   #5
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For generic names of relatively unimportant characters, I go through a list of people who bought my software in the early 2K's. That's thousands of actual names of a variety of ethnicities. I scan until I see a first name that appeals to me. Then I go looking for a surname that seems to fit. (I never use anyone's *real* name on purpose.)

For important characters, I brood on it for a while. I'll assign a working name and use that until their real name comes to me.

For names that need to fit the setting, like colonial North America, I go hunting on Google for era-appropriate names to pick from.

Sometimes, because I'm not German, I take a word like "weaver" and translate it to German ("Weber") and call that the surname. I'm not saying it's a *good* idea, just one I've used.

-David
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Old 12-16-2010, 05:17 PM   #6
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For fantasy names, I tend to make things up, though I've been known to swipe from Latin dictionaries too.

For in-our-world fiction, I like to browse the various baby name sites around the web. They always have the meanings of the names, so I'll pick something appropriate for the character.
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Old 12-17-2010, 11:38 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GoblinWriter View Post
For in-our-world fiction, I like to browse the various baby name sites around the web. They always have the meanings of the names, so I'll pick something appropriate for the character.
I do that too.

In the US, there are even "most popular baby name" lists by year, going back to the 1930's. So I sometimes use the age of a character to pick a year to comb through. 20 year old girl? Popular girl names of 1990. 45 year old man? Popular boy names of 1965.

-David
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Old 12-20-2010, 03:29 AM   #8
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I've spent a lot of time on baby name websites, usually looking up names by meaning. I've made up fantasy names but usually prefer real but obscure names. Lately I've started writing down names that I find interesting. I also use names of people I admire or dislike.

These are the main characters in my Senta and the Steel Dragon series.

Senta. ..baby name site
Zurfina. ... Made up.
Bessemer the Steel Dragon. Based on Henri Bessemer

Terrence. Good old british sounding names.
Iolanthe
Augustus. Along with a Roman History

Zeah. ..baby name book
Yuah. ... Made up to match Zeah.
Saba ... Baby name website

Last edited by HistoryWes; 02-20-2011 at 04:46 AM.
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Old 12-20-2010, 08:51 AM   #9
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Mine seem to pop into my head, as do characters and somehow, I already know what they're called. I woke up this morning with Johnny Champion and 'The 5 o'clock up club' in my head and I don't even write Childrens' fiction! Now he is bugging me and I don't know what to do...
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Old 12-21-2010, 06:04 PM   #10
Steven Lake
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I typically have a language or cultural element to each of my stories which ultimately drives the way the names work. For example, if a culture tends to be more laid back, the names will tend to reflect this. Or with races like the Gayik'Von in my Earthfleet saga, the idea of a more spartan, utilitarian design to the names was applied. So there's always a background or foundational element to all the names I create, and it's from this framework that all the names are taken.
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Old 12-24-2010, 05:32 PM   #11
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Depends on the character. Many of my characters go through a name change, as I decide that the original doesn't suit them, or isn't sexy enough, or is too curt, or too dreary, or whatever. Alien names are often picked out of other languages and altered just enough that they should not jump at someone who speaks that language.

Harry Harrison was famous for having his characters speak Irish when they needed to speak alien-ese. I use quite a few Hungarian words as names.
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Old 12-25-2010, 08:27 PM   #12
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No need to obsess about names. The character makes the name mean something. The Beatles and The Rolling Stones are probably the two worst names you could ever think of to name rock bands, but what they created becomes associated with those names and makes them powerful.
I read somewhere one of the most used names for a character is Dexter. Why? I have no idea, but I almost named a character Dexter once...

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Old 12-25-2010, 11:18 PM   #13
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In some cases I choose based upon people who have screwed me over at some time in my life...

These characters always meet a grisly end
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Old 12-26-2010, 12:57 AM   #14
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This might be useful http://www.behindthename.com/random/

and also this http://www.behindthename.com/twins.php
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Old 01-03-2011, 10:31 PM   #15
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My way is probably least creative, I'm afraid.

A lot of my stuff is semi-autobiographical, so I'll take a person's name and mess with it. "Carol" might become "Carrie", for instance. And for the last name, usually I'll just either pick a common surname, or I'll pick a name that reminds me of the person's name in some way.

Like I said, not the most creative way in the world.
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