Monday, 7 March 2011

"Baby, what's in a name?"

How do you pick your character's names?  You have a brilliant idea for a new story, you know the setting, the outline, how it ends, heck you even know what your Main Character will wear the first time she meets her beau!  Ahem, but for some reason, only known to your Muse, and the-spooky-tarot-card-reading-lady-at-the-local-fun-fair, -you just can't settle on a name, so what do you do? Well, here's what I consider when choosing the name of my new babies aka my new MCs.


1.  City/Country/Planet of the Story.  Are there any names common to the setting of your story?  For example, Edward is great for a turn of the century romance, or a Vampire, but as an Alien fighting Zombies? Possibly not.  Think, like, really hard, -what name fits your setting?

2. Sexual Ambiguity.  And, I'm talking about the symbols on the bathroom doors here, you know the circle with the arrow, and the circle like, with the cross?  Yes, those ones, -Male vs. Female.  Avoid confusion, try to steer away from androgyness sounding names.  There's nothing more frustrating than reading the first few chapters of a book before realising that Alex is actually Alexandria, Sam is really Samantha, and well, 'Jacks' really is Jack the bloke version, not derived of our dear Jacqueline variety.

3.  Avoid the cliche' - as in, names that have already been around the block recently, like, several times.  Look at the recent bestsellers in your chosen genre, -do we really need another Bella, Dan, Luce, Harry, Sam, Hermoine?  Oh wait, -Hermoine?  It's your story, it should be original! Start afresh, give them brand spanking new names, puh-lease!

4.  Names that fit your genre.  YA vs Period Romance vs Sci-Fantasy vs Steampunk vs Womens Literature, the list, like the possibilities, is endless.  And so, if you are tossing up on Harold, James, Jana, Sam (there's that name again), Zaza, Nana, Alice, Pete, Sylvia, -pick the name that fits your genre and time period.

5.  Age-clothing-style-appropriateness.  So, I could've just stuck with age, but here's the thing -keep your character in character, start with a great name that fits.  Like any good lady knows, one must dress one's age, and it helps if your writer clearly defines this from the outset.  Don't give the black-robed spinster a name like Jade, nor bestow a young rockstar with Camilla. Keep your characters happy, give them the best names you can find, after all a happy character makes a happy story right?  This is me, assuming you're writing happy endings again. 


Tell me, how do you pick your characters names?


A/N:  I hope you had a wonderful, restful weekend.  I certainly did, and I managed to keep moving with my edits, which makes me happy. One last tip for characters names, if in doubt, do what millions of humans do daily - 'google' names, baby names, characters names,  'google' like there's no tomorrow, because...if you 'google', you will find one.  Trust me.  Have a great week!

23 comments:

  1. Something that bugs me is when all the characters have super-modern cool names that all sound like people's last names or place names (Dakota, Branson, Blake, Porter, etc.) and there's not a John or Mary in the bunch. I like to see a mix of names, because that's what you get in real life. As a teacher I can tell you that even if there are 3 Kayleighs in my class, there will also be a Sarah.

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  2. What marvelous advice you give to writers. This post is exceptional for name chosing. I love the clarity and maturity of your writing. I can't consider myself a writer but I know what appeals in reading. Yours appeals, my dear.
    Love and peace,
    Manzanita

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  3. I had a character pick his own name once, but other than that I usually pick names for specific reasons. Like I have a family of Irish kids who live on a piece of land that's been passed down from generation to generation. The estate is the BJ Estate, so all the kids have BJ Irish, or Anglican-Irish names.
    bethfred.com

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  4. I actually don't pick my characters names. When I get their personality, it just comes with a name.... they always come fully formed. No assembly required! But you have a breakdown on how you should go about it!

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  5. Most of the time my characters come to me already named. But I also like to research names and find ones that have special meaning, that describe the character in a specific way.

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  6. My system is very unscientific. When I hear names that I like (I've even found a couple in obituaries--yeah, morbid, I know) I jot them down in a journal I keep.

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  7. Great post. Excellent advice. I tend to pick names I like. Don't get me wrong, they must be inline with the story and the age of character etc. However, I find the process of finding a name to be one of the more fun parts of characterization.

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  8. I guess I just kind of go with names that 'feel' right. You know how certain names have a 'feeling'? Like every 'Chris' I know has been kind of happy go lucky. Every 'Amanda' I know has always been pretty and self assured. It seems like people kind of fall into a names 'theme'.

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  9. Sometimes the perfect name just comes to me, but for a lot of them, I have to brainstorm and search through baby name sites. It's terribly hard work. :)

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  10. Dianne, you are so right! Dakota gets my goat too! Seriously, there's got to be a balance, I couldn't read a book where all the kids had like, cool names. SO not real. Good point dear lady. ;-)

    Manzanita, thank you!! You are so sweet, I hope when I do get published I can send a copy of my book! ;-)

    Beth, thats great, so I think this meets the characters names in the right setting. Thanks so much for stopping by! ;-)

    Melissa M, I have to say I fall back on this if I haven't already got a name, I'm pretty organic too. Usually I have a name in mind for a character because they remind me of someone, but I still google for different options. Just in case. ;-)

    Bish, totally agree, make sense and its all part of the research. Absolutely. ;-)

    Liz, I love that! Yup, all sources must be plundered. I glimpse some of magazines and movie credits too. ;-)

    Andrea, it is fun right? We must have fun with our research and characters names are always up there. Glad you stopped by today! ;-)

    Katie, Hello! Yup, totally hearing you. Great point too about how names fall into themes or reflect certain characteristics, or assumed traits. I totally agree my dear! ;-)

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  11. Meredith, oh gotta love those baby names websites, where would writers be without them eh? I enjoy researching, names I can get lost in the sites just looking at their meanings and origins. ;-)

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  12. Almost everything I've written is non-fiction, so I don't have a problem there. In the fiction project I'm working on, I chose names based on personality types. Of course all that is subject to change (10 times...LOL)

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  13. If I was to give you an extended answer, I'd repeat everything that you just said, except that I like Androgynous names.

    I just make REEEEEEEEAALLY sure that everyone's on the same page w.r.t the gender.

    As for sounds, people sometimes jump away from a name they like too fast. I.e. I liked the name Darren. It didn't work, but Darrion works exactly. Just so, Camilla won't work for a rocker, but I think Camille, or Cameron or Cam would.

    I find that a lot of time, the secret lies in the sound.

    :-)

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  14. Great advice.

    I prefer names I can pronounce. Maybe that's why I don't read fantasy and SF.

    Love Misha's advice about similar sounding names.

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  15. Great advice!

    I often visit sites like names.mongabay.com and start looking through based on certain syllables/etc. Or I'll Google "Name meaning" or something like that--the meaning usually based on the character's personality.

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  16. My characters name themselves. I had one name himself George - a name I detest. It is right for him and he is actually a nice man... not sure how it happened.
    I do check the meaning etc when they introduce themselves. It can sometimes be useful to know - after all you do not want to call a 18thC heroine Wendy!

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  17. AWESOME tips!!! Usually just go through names until one sticks as just right (in my head of from the baby name websites, or names from a specific era)

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  18. I like to pick unusual names for my MCs, but not weird ones. Occasionally a name just comes to me, but usually I have to surf a bunch of name sites before I decide.

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  19. I look at the Social Security register here in the U.S. That way I can see what names were popular in the 1940s, since that's the time period I write in. :-)

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  20. Pat, I love your approach with the personality types! Nice one. ;-)

    Misha, good point on the sounds, I think that makes sense too. For names which ambiguous, I guess thats a personal preference, or I just get confused easily. It's good to know everyones thoughts though. ;-)

    Stina, thanks! I agree. Nothing too exotic that's hard to pronounce then? ;-)

    Golden Eagle, I like that, characters based on personality. Makes perfect sense to me too.

    Cat, miaou! Please, no C18 Wendy or Jade, for that matter. ;-O

    Colene, thanks! Baby name websites are hugely popular! Great if you can search by era too.

    Alexia, I like something original if possible but not too whacky. I definitely steer away from the 'current, overused' ones. ;-)

    Melissa M, ah - lucky you. That's a great source!

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  21. Choosing names - or choosing the right name - can take me ages. My first job is to find the 50 most popular names for their year of birth. I then spend hours looking through my dictionaries of surnames and first names.

    Oh yes, and I'm the last one to leave the cinema. Everyone else leaves and I'm still checking out the credits for The Perfect Name. :)

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  22. Never realized the hoops a writer went through to come up with a reasonable name.
    Guess pulling names out of a hat should be left for giveaways.

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  23. If you are looking for popular names like music artists have, than http://names-nomes-voornamen.blogspot.com is something for you. You can find popular and unique baby names on this website.

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