Naming Characters



No announcement yet.
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • #16
    Re: Naming Characters

    I use my own program to generate names.

    About seventeen years ago I wrote a random-name generator using Delphi (Object Pascal in a Rapid Application Development environment, sort of like Visual Basic was back in the day, only better than VB was).

    This was before the Internet became what it is today. Now I can go onto the Internet and find various name lists, like the ones that Social Security maintains. But I had to find my own names for my generator. I used the Nashville metropolitan telephone book to gather most of my names, but I also added names that I heard and saw. I tried to choose names that ranged from common to unusual and even a little bizarre. I set up the interface to let me choose only a female name, a male name, a first + last name, or only a last name.

    I never got all the names into the database that I wanted to before I had to cease working on it. The program still works (it may not under Windows 10; I have not found out yet), and I still use it. The original Delphi language was a Borland product that ran, first, under Windows 3.1, and then under Windows 95.

    By the time that Microsoft came out with XP, my older version of Delphi would not work anymore. New versions of it were hideously expensive, and I did not continue with the project. In the meantime, Borland sold Delphi. It changed owners several times, and each owner tried to outdo the previous one in committing screw-ups and in keeping the price of the program so high that ordinary hobbyist programmers could not afford it.

    However, a free clone, known as Lazarus, has been available for a few years and is now really excellent. I have recently gotten back into my original project by using Lazarus.

    Recently I checked out some of the name generators that are now available on line. I think that they could be very useful. They are much more sophisticated than what I created, though I have thought about adding some of the same features.

    The generators on line let you select common or unusual names, and some may let you select specific ethnicities. The greatest problem in creating these specialized databases is that the programmer who creates them needs to have some knowledge of the names (or someone else will need to develop them). I would have no idea what is a common name in Poland or Israel or Jordan or Iran or India. I could look up a list, but I would have no idea whether I was dealing with something that sounded nice or stupid. Just imagine some non-English speaker trying to come up with an American name and, in all ignorance, chooses Cletus or Gomer. So I have stayed away from the specialized stuff.

    For now I will continue to use my old homegrown program. If I click it twelve times in a row for a "complete" name set, I get the following names, combined into random combinations of Male + Last Name, Female + Last Name. These are unedited, and some are weird. All of these were real names, almost certainly taken from the phone book.

    Eustis MEECE
    Anetta MEECE

    Wilbur OCKERMAN

    Howell KOULAKOV
    Dolores KOULAKOV

    Poppy BOCHETTE

    Walker BALTIMORE

    Joe KELSEY
    Merrilee KELSEY

    Daniel LILLARD
    Eugenia LILLARD

    Blaise HELLMAN
    Pippa HELLMAN

    Neal MULKEY
    Vittoria MULKEY

    Tadeo HOUSE
    Alexa HOUSE

    Gilroy KENNON
    Gail KENNON

    Terry BAGFORD
    Ottilie BAGFORD

    The interesting thing is that the names themselves can suggest characters. They are not just names. For example:

    Poppy BOCHETTE

    The female name 'Poppy' triggers some associations in my mind. I could already have the beginnings of a character, just from the name. If I wanted to use Bochette as her last name, and give her a husband, I would change the name 'Cyd' to something else, because I do not like it as a male name (I think of Cyd Charisse, definitely not a male). Maybe I would look at my list above and choose 'Walker' as a male first name. Or I might click my program a few times, as I am doing now, and come up with:


    I would certainly throw out the weird 'Aric' - no idea about that one. 'Lenny' ("Tell me about the rabbits, George." BANG!) is definitely out, too. I could go with something traditional and comfortable like 'Mike' or 'Floyd' or something a little old-fashioned but solid like 'Ned'. The more Germanic 'Gunther' or 'Klaus' might set up an interesting conflict between a staid type and a flower child - or a reversal, in which Gunther is the zany one and Poppy is very straight-laced.

    Anyhow, names matter, I think. At least they can get you to thinking about your characters.

    The other night I saw part of an old film from the early 1960s (I had seen the whole thing before) that was based on a Gore Vidal play about a political convention. The villainous candidate was named 'Cantwell'. The name had meaning, because the noun/verb 'cant' refers to a recitation of what today are known as 'talking points', done in a hypocritical way. In other words, phony political crap meant to gather the rubes in. Unfortunately, the word is not a useful word in America, because in American English the contraction of 'cannot' (can't) is pronounced the same way - and 'cant' just sounds confusing.

    But the name Cantwell, as a combinatin of 'cant+well' is supposed to be a commentary on the character. This kind of thing can be distracting in drama (as opposed to comedy, where it can be effective). But it was subtle enough in this film to be a little joke.

    "The fact that you have seen professionals write poorly is no reason for you to imitate them." - ComicBent.


    • #17
      Re: Naming Characters

      Originally posted by UpandComing View Post
      Here are some tricks I use:

      *For protagonists, I sometimes use names that have words in them that reflect the character's main flaw in some way. So for example, when I had a character whose main flaw was being cowardly, I gave him the last name of Bailey (as in, he "bails" from his problems all the time). And when I had a character whose main issue was that he was a perfectionist/goody-two shoes, I gave him the name "Jeremy Gooding."

      *For antagonists, or characters who are unpleasant in some way, I often choose names (both first and last) that have a harsh/hard sound, because it helps to communicate over and over again that this person is an ***hole. For example, I had a surly cop character named "Rick Stanton". And a psychopath socialite with the last name "Cannon." In contrast, I named an even-tempered cop character "Jason Rogers", which has a much softer sound. Or a person who was innocent/naive might be called "Lily."

      *Another trick I use is choosing a last name that belongs to a famous person whose name is associated with certain characteristics. So for example, I gave an intrepid reporter the last name "Russert" because I was a big fan of Tim Russert, the political journalist who was known for being tough but fair. It would be like naming a motherly figure known for giving great advice the last name "Winfrey".

      *For supporting characters who are quirky or off-kilter in some way (as they often tend to be), I would consider names that are more commonly known as regular words, that are somewhat on-the-nose. For example, "Flower" or "Rainbow" or "Summer" (think "500 Days of Summer").

      So, in general, I tend to think about how a name's actual sound affects perception of the character. I think it's a good idea to choose names that drive home a certain point about the character -- since names pop up repeatedly in the script, it helps to reinforce a certain image about the person to the reader.
      This is very similar to the approach I like. It seems to help a lot when the character's name has some relevance to their role and their psychology and there are endless examples of this in film. Sometimes the relevance can be explicit, sometimes it is just in the sound of the name. Sometimes it is more helpful to the writer than the audience, but the difference is always there.
      What's also noticeable is when the writer has been lazy about names. This isn't really a big deal with incidental characters, but with main characters I always think it's worth the effort to find appropriate and meaningful names.
      "Friends make the worst enemies." Frank Underwood


      • #18
        Re: Naming Characters

        I usually try to find metaphorical inference with major characters. Nothing too heavy, but subtle insight into a flaw, or desire, or a trait he's unaware of. I don't like throwing darts for something I consider important. But I don't care much about minor characters and just use names that don't sound anything like my major characters. Good luck.


        • #19
          Re: Naming Characters

          I usually can't start writing in earnest until I get the names right. (Though they still sometimes change between drafts as I hone the characters). I use baby name books, lists of top names by year, and a roleplaying game index of names from around the world, along with names I've heard in real life. So a little bit of everything, I suppose.
          Patrick Sweeney


          • #20
            Re: Naming Characters

            If I'm not giving a character a name with a significant meaning, then I use a little trick I read about (can't remember where, maybe even here??) ...

            I go to a film on IMBD that is the same genre, style, or tone as my story. Click 'full cast & crew'. And I go from top to bottom, picking out names I like.

            Honestly, some of these doofoids in the movie business have the best names


            • #21
              Re: Naming Characters

              I try to name characters as sort of inside references whose significance is known only to me. For example, in my latest screenplay, a romantic comedy:

              * The leading lady is named Colleen Cossitt -- Cossitt for a street in the Syracuse, N.Y., neighborhood where I grew up, Colleen in honor of vivacious 1920s actress Colleen Moore. (It also meshes well with Cossitt.) She has an older sister, Maureen.
              * Her leading man is Keswick Fletcher. He's a scientist and Berkeley-educated PhD, so I wanted a name that sounded tweedy and professorial. And I couldn't find any instances of someone with the first name of Keswick. (He explains it by noting it was his mother's maiden name.)
              * The bad guy is Vito Cortez, in honor of pre-Code actor Ricardo Cortez, who frequently played smarmy villains (and, like Kenny in the early days of "South Park," regularly met his demise).
              * Colleen's best friend (and Vito's girlfriend) is Meg Switlik. In my youth, we regularly visited New Jersey to see my grandmother, and on the way we passed a school building named Switlik Elementary.
              Last edited by Done Deal Pro; 10-09-2016, 06:39 AM. Reason: Fixed font style