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Ronin

What's In a Name

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I've always wondered how writers go about naming their characters. Personally, I really don't have a method to that madness. For the project I am currently working on, since the story only has 7 or 8 characters in total, including antagonists, I actually found coming up with character names to be quite difficult in the beginning, because I had a lot of freedom in it. Ultimately, for the protagonist and the other main characters, since most of them are female, I decided upon names that I would either give to my daughter, should I ever have one, or names that I simply thought were beautiful in sound, spelling, and meaning. As for antagonists, I decided to look up a list of the ancient kings of Israel, as well as other Biblical villains. I was surprised that the names I chose fit the story well.

 

I guess I will pose the question. How do you all decide what to name your characters? Also, do you prefer names that are more common, or ones that are unique?

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It depends on the genre I'm writing in.

 

For Biblical Fiction, I pick names appropriate for that time and place in history, either by looking through the Bible or historical name lists, or both.

 

For Fantasy, I have a strict protocol. I always pick a real-world reference language or languages that color all the names (of people and places) for each of my Fantasy cultures. Then all the names from each culture sound consistent.

 

For Science Fiction, I have only ever written a futuristic type story (like Star Trek) and never an alternate-galaxy type story (like Star Wars). I tend to go hog-wild with some of the personal names but keep the last names recognizable, for the most part. 

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I make a list of names or look them up or think of names I like or have heard.

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Um oh oh, well, while I don't have a particular meathod for non Sci Fi. I've been told they should be easy to pronounce. But then I've also been told that I don't listen to well. 😗

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I use www.behindthename.com, too. In fact, I used that site to choose names for my children as well!

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Depends. For my historical fantasy, I usually looked up Celtic names, medieval names, or something along those lines. For some characters, I want to look up a specific meaning. I picked Hemlock for poison, and I bet you can guess what Pandora means. 

 

However! Through all of it, I want something simple to read and pronounce. I have dyslexia and names are really hard. I can't even tell you how many books I've read where I can't pronounce the name, so I make one up with the same first letter. I know many people who will put the book down if they can't pronounce the name, so be careful about that. 

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I haven't tried my hand at fiction for a while, but when I did, I pulled out the hugest list of names i had: the telephone directory. These may be becoming a thing of the past, but it's an enormous compilation of names, and there's no need to pick an entire name. I picked out a long list of first & last names, combined names if i needed something exotic or science-fiction'ey, and could usually get several good sounding names per minute.

 

Nowadays,I would probably google each made-up name, to make sure it doesn't mean something embarrassing in a foreign language...

Edited by Wes B
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My MCs are my stuffed animals, so they already were given names. Spaulding as homage to Wilson the volleyball in The Castaway. Phil, because he's a Phillies World Series souvenir teddy bear. Teddy, because he wasn't supposed to become part of the family, so I never gave him anything but "Uncle Teddy." (Spaulding was married with kids by the time he was one.) Whoops. Attached before I could give him away. :$

 

The story was first written in 2011, so I looked up "Top 100 Baby Girl names" for nine years earlier. In the story, Spaulding's mom is a nine year old.

 

Two characters are named after people I know who are like those characters at that age.

 

Alice, a male 98 year old teddy bear, was named from a song title I was using for that chapter. The scene is set in a dump, so the song title that fit was "Alice's Restaurant." And I thought Spaulding was a girl when we first met, (until he clarified), so I figure I can't be the only one who guessed the wrong gender for their teddy bear.

 

Ryan, the Phillies Phanatic, was named after Ryan Howard, the best hitter the Phillies had in 2011.

 

And the main human in this book is me, so I named her after my favorite aunt.

 

I guess I usually use whatever works at the moment.

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18 hours ago, zx1ninja said:

Um oh oh, well, while I don't have a particular meathod for non Sci Fi. I've been told they should be easy to pronounce. But then I've also been told that I don't listen to well. 😗

I've read entire series without ever pronouncing the name. To this day, I don't know how to pronounce Ayla.

 

Oh, and I have the same problem with plants. I have a clematis. I have no idea how to pronounce that word, so if you ask me what it is IRL, I'll tell you he is Clem II. (Clem I died a few years ago. :$)

 

I think pronouncing is overrated. Tell me what how to pronounce Prince when he went by a symbol, so everyone called him "the Artist formally known as Prince." xD

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Thank you all for your responses. It's so fascinating to learn how fellow writers go about even the simplest of things. It just goes to show how everyone is different in how they think. Unsurprisingly, I might add.

 

I've used www.behindthename.com as well. Very useful site. I've also messed around with the name generator on reedsy.com. Comes up with some pretty interesting ones.

 

 

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On 9/22/2019 at 6:15 PM, suspensewriter said:

Well, I have so many books, that I just look around at the author's name and voila- instant name!

Should I hope to be on your book shelf?  Would you make me a villain?  👺

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In science fiction, I like to follow the idea that a nickname becomes a formal name, that names may change gender over time, or that words borrowed from other languages become names. Then I take feedback.

 

I like to hold back information, like Heinlein did in Starship Troopers. ( Johnnie Rico is Filipino.) Dr. R.J.Harker III hates his middle name as much as I love mine. Jordan River Fenton carries a virus that causes her to reject sensory augmentation, unlike Geordie LaForge from the Star Trek series. Rani Champignon is a male felon on a work release. (His name used to be Randy Champion, but it doesn't fit anymore. "They" keep him in the dark and feed him false information to get him to do what "they" want.

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I haven't written fiction very much, so the list of fictional characters I've created is short, but I've realized I try to use names that are short, so they're easy to pronounce and remember. I don't do much with titles or surnames.

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I do try to avoid names that are similar to each other (at least in the same story). I know I get confused that way. I imagine others do as well.

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16 hours ago, Nicola said:

Should I hope to be on your book shelf?  Would you make me a villain?  👺

I read your name and instantly pictured a character in my book. The character is nameless, (so far), but if she ever needs a name, I'll name her after you. 

 

She's a purple My Little Pony with a feminist attitude. (Well, she gets annoyed with boy teddy bears talking about kissing girls like that makes them something special anyway.)

 

What do you think? xD

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5 hours ago, carolinamtne said:

I do try to avoid names that are similar to each other (at least in the same story). I know I get confused that way. I imagine others do as well.

I am definitely one of those people. 

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On 9/25/2019 at 7:12 AM, carolinamtne said:

Someone several years ago on this site used to spell names backwards for sci-fi. (Yes, he's still here.)

I did that too!! 😱I came up with some awesome names, lol. 

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