Naming Characters

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  • Naming Characters

    Do you have any special tips or tricks you use for naming your characters outside of just looking at a list of baby names, etc?

    What other things do you take into consideration before naming your characters?
    One must be fearless and tenacious when pursuing their dreams. If you don't, regret will be your reward.

    The Fiction Story Room

  • #2
    Re: Naming Characters

    Originally posted by Juno Styles View Post
    Do you have any special tips or tricks you use for naming your characters outside of just looking at a list of baby names, etc?

    What other things do you take into consideration before naming your characters?
    For minor characters, I'll often steal a first name from a person I know, mostly likely from high school or college. It's a short hand to my brain of what kind of person I want it to be.

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    • #3
      Re: Naming Characters

      If your screenwriting software does autofill (which most do), then try not to give anyone a name that starts with the same letter as one of your major characters. It'll just make your life a lot easier.

      Try to give your major characters different-looking names (different lengths, different beginning letters, etc.), as well, unless there's a good reason not to. It makes it easier for the reader to tell people apart on the page.

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      • #4
        Re: Naming Characters

        Originally posted by Juno Styles View Post
        What other things do you take into consideration before naming your characters?
        I try and think of a few names that may represent the character as s/he changes.

        A bit like John Dunbar becoming Dances With Wolves.
        Story Structure 1
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        • #5
          Re: Naming Characters

          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.
          "I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork.-- Peter De Vries

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          • #6
            Re: Naming Characters

            I harvest names from company emails... used two so far, one is cool, the other is frigging awesome - perfect definition of the character. Never met the actual person but I guarantee he's not as cool as my *** ***
            I heard the starting gun


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            • #7
              Re: Naming Characters

              I use my friends and families names. The damn thing's not going to get made anyway so I might as well get someone excited to read it.
              If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant's life, she will choose to save the infant's life without even considering if there are men on base.
              Dave Barry

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              • #8
                Re: Naming Characters

                I take care of phones (including entering names) for around 3000 people. If I used some of the real names, people would tell me that's too weird.

                If I have a character, who is an extreme jackass, I'll often name him after an extreme jackass I've known in my life.

                Lately (after reading a lot of scripts) I noticed that the names had some kind of significance to the character, so I've been doing that too.

                If I want names for minor characters, when I'm writing something from the past -- this is a great source:
                https://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/

                Go down the page and you can pick lists of most popular names, by year, starting in 1880. (It says 1879, but if you try that, it tells you the oldest date you can use is 1880.) No idea why they say 1879? They also have other ways to sort, including by state.
                "I just couldn't live in a world without me."

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                • #9
                  Re: Naming Characters

                  Oh yeah, I do keep a google doc of cool names and just stick them in there when I come across them. Lots of them come from group emails and personnel rosters from old jobs.

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                  • #10
                    Re: Naming Characters

                    I think part of picking good names is understanding the connotations of a given name. For example, the name Kane. This one is too cliche for me to actually use, but it has a biblical root associated with a notorious evil person (Cain/Abel) and is also linked with "raising cain"/causing trouble. So although it isn't very original, it's a fitting name for a villain. On the other hand, a surname like Flowers could be fitting for a gentle or peaceful character since it matches the connotative meaning of the word.

                    The TV show LOST is a good example of this. Jack Shephard = shepherd = leader of the flock. John Locke = philosopher = thinking man. Sawyer = Tom Sawyer = trickster/prankster.

                    Another similar technique that I've seen writers use is to alter actual words slightly to create a name that still subtly reminds the audience of the root word. For example, one script I read a long time ago had a scheming huckster named Wiler in it. Wily is another word for cunning and sly, and has connotative meanings associated with those ideas (hence "Wile E. Coyote").

                    So you could think of a unique adjective the captures the essence of your character, and then change it just enough so that it sounds like a name.

                    Apart from that, you can find lists of traditional names for almost any ethnicity/place and then try to match those meanings and sounds with your intentions.

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                    • #11
                      Re: Naming Characters

                      For whatever reason, I find this to be the hardest part of writing.

                      I think it's because in most cases the character's name really just doesn't matter. How many movies are there where the name is never actually said out loud? So I've got everything all ready to go and I sit down to start writing something, then I realize I have nothing to type into the name slot and then the only names I can think of in the moment are one syllable ones.

                      I've since made an effort to have that ready in advance but I still get the occasional spur of the moment character that throws me off.

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                      • #12
                        Re: Naming Characters

                        I just put in "placeholder" names and get writing. Then usually, by the time story is done, I can't bring myself to change the placeholder names. So I guess it takes care of itself.
                        STANDARD DISCLAIMER: I'm a wannabe, take whatever I write with a huge grain of salt.

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                        • #13
                          Re: Naming Characters

                          I can't write a character until I have a name for them. I mean a name that resonates with everything that character embodies. I use http://random-name-generator.info/ and select "rare." I run 100 at a time. I've never actually taken both the first and last name-- I'll take one or the other, then combine them the way that works.

                          One hero's name was Val Ison and the villain was Spyro Griftka. Another was Noland Novak, "no land" being the key to his character as he is a renegade rebel living in a violent Wasteland-- a "no land."

                          I literally cannot start writing until I have a name that I connect with-- it's stupid, I know. Sometimes I'm adding a new character after I've already started and for like, two days, I can't write until I have the name.

                          Sometimes I'll take a characteristic of the character and run through the thesaurus and use a functional word for the actual name. That's how I came up with "Precept" which is my 18 year old hero's mentor's name. To me, it's perfect for the story, tone, and style.

                          Do whatever works. For some, names aren't a big deal, for me, it's my writer's block-- LOL
                          "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

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                          • #14
                            Re: Naming Characters

                            Originally posted by finalact4 View Post
                            I literally cannot start writing until I have a name that I connect with-- it's stupid, I know. Sometimes I'm adding a new character after I've already started and for like, two days, I can't write until I have the name.
                            That's kind of the way I was -- that's why I came up with the "trick" of telling myself that I'd get to that deep, meaningful name when I was finished. Meanwhile, I want to write something, so I'll put in a "placeholder." Now I know I'm lying to myself, but I still do it anyhow. I'm pretty gullible.
                            STANDARD DISCLAIMER: I'm a wannabe, take whatever I write with a huge grain of salt.

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                            • #15
                              Re: Naming Characters

                              Watch movie credits in slow-motion. Then use the first name of the editor with the last name of the hair-stylist. And never - I repeat NEVER - deviate from that combination - unless you find more suitable ones.
                              Know this: I'm a lazy amateur, so trust not a word what I write.
                              "The ugly can be beautiful. The pretty, never." ~ Oscar Wilde

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