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Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Choosing A Name

Characters begin life inside the writers mind, where an inspiration will arouse a first thought, and an idea will form and  grow. We'll incubate an individual, imagining, and creating until we are ready to record details about them to paper or screen. How then, do you make them real, and alive to ourselves and the reader? One way is by giving them a memorable name.

Giving your character the right name is essential, do take your time over this, its important, treat it as you would if you were naming a child. Does it fit? Is it suitable for the time period when your story is set, or where it takes place? No good calling her  Kylie if she lives her life in 1920's England. Yet its okay to call her Elizabeth today, or anytime at all, and in any setting or genre.

Look for something unique to make your character stand apart. What about giving them a last name for their first name? Place names are good in this instance, how about Chester or Brighton? Add a surname from something everyday, like Friday maybe? Brighton Friday, or Chester Tuesday?

Watch the credits after a movie, or TV show and try switching different combinations of first and last names around. But do make sure you can pronounce the name you choose - readers don't like obscure names they can't decipher, or ones they falter over on every page.

What about Pitt Neeson, or Brad Liam? Not so good, maybe Ginger Day then? Or Doris Rodgers? See how much fun you can have brain storming a name for your character. 

How do you come up with names? 

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19 comments:

  1. Interesting post Maria. It is a good idea to put thought into a name. I try to choose names to suit the characters; from a traditional name for an elderly gentleman to an upbeat name for the more 'free spirit' characters. :-)

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  2. Sometimes, I'll begin a story with just a name, then build my character around it. On other occasions though' I have agonised over finding a name to fit. I particularly enjoy naming my Vampires, it's a lot of fun finding names with meanings too.

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  3. Sometimes characters arrive with their names and like you, I sometimes build a story round a name. Today I rewrote a story, changed the names of the main characters and it gave the story a completely different feel. Fun to play with names though :-) x

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    1. I can identify with what you mean abut changing character names, and giving the story a different feel. I have two characters in my latest WIP whoose names begin with the same letter, one wasn't a major player but has pushed his way to the front as the novel has progressed.

      I'm reluctant to alter his name, as I don't want to change the feel of the story.

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  4. An apposite post.

    With my current WIP (in the early planning stage) I woke up months ago with an unusual & perfect name. I knew only that this character was a woman & that she lived in a house overlooking the sea surrounded by a garden in which...

    You'll have to wait for the rest. The point is, it was the unusual name that began it all. I had no idea what her story was - it came later, in dreams & however our stories finally come to us.

    And now I'm on the other side of the fence wrestling with a name for a male character. I have no idea what to call him. It's like having a box of my favourite chocolates & being asked to choose.

    (I'm @carollovekin on Twitter BTW.)

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  5. I'm intrigued, have you tried a baby's name book or web site to find your male characters name?

    P.S. i'm following you on Twitter now. :_)

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  6. I am still struggling to come up with the proper name for my heroine. It has left me stalled for months. Pathetic, I know. :-/

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    1. You'll know it when you find it Amber! Is there anyone historically famous you could name her after? Someone with similar qualities?

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    2. Hi Amberr,

      There is a a website which might help www.behindthename.com it has references to many different cultural names, as well as biblical, mythological and ancient names. I hope you find a name for your heroine soon so you can move forward.

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  7. I'm an avid name collector! I do have a tatty old 'baby names' book but if ever I hear an interesting name I jot it down somewhere so I always have a good supply to look through. That doesn't mean I'm never stuck though - I tend to collect the quirky names so I get stumped when trying to name a grumpy old man! :-)

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    1. Hi Laura,

      I'm going to start collecting names now. What a good idea...I carry a notebook and use it for writing related stuff but have never thought to jot interesting names in it. Thank you

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  8. i love coming up with names--you know what is a challenge--giving people the same names in a story--like is true to real life :)

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    1. Agreed Lynn, we don't do it though - do we? I got thinking about it, and you never come across it in novels, or on the screen.

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  9. Good post Maria. I just love characters and names. Great to observe and listen to people on buses, in cafes etc, then give them a name that fits the slot. Make some notes in your writer's notebook and you might have something that will fill in the gaps for a future novel or short story.

    Two days before starting a novel Georges Simenon would consult a map of the place where the book was to be set, search through his collection of telephone books for names of characters, and establish the cast— ages, backgrounds, family ties—on the back of a manila envelope. Then he was ready. An unusual method but it worked in the Maigret novels and is worth consideration.

    I think that a name should pin a preconception of a character into the reader's mind before any real writing begins. Lord Sebastian Flyte, Charles Ryder, Alec d'Urberville, James Bond etc.

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    1. Keith,

      I have actually done an exercise where you create all your characters on paper before you even write a word! It was great fun working out all their life stories in advance. I actually found it very easy to fit them into a story afterwards too.

      I never knew Georges Simenon worked that way - interesting. Thank you for sharing.

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  10. Certain names just speak to me, I find. There are points when I just pick a name out of the air and it /exactly what I want/ and others were I change it again and again and again to find the feel I want.
    I depend a lot on etymology sites though and scramblers to make anagrams.
    Then again I write a lot of fantasy, so traditional names don't always cut it.

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    1. I agree, I feel the same, sometimes, names just seem so right for what we want...

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  11. I agree that a name is important but I couldn't help remembering when I used to teach junior age kids. They'd spend an entire lesson trying to choose a name for their character. Exasperation! Love your place name idea. How about Lester Weekly?

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  12. Good name! I can picture him now, flat cap, big grin on his face, hands in his pockets. Someone who whistles as he walks. An eye for a bargain. Does the odd bit of market trading... Is that him?

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