Saturday, March 31, 2012

What is a Name to a Character?

And how important is the name we chose for our characters?

After all, we all have a name.  It may be short (Brad Pitt) or long (Ernest Hemingway), traditional (James Patterson) or "trendy" (Taylor Lautner).  Some names rhyme (Jack Black) while others appear to be more random (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart). Some of us like our names while others may be less pleased.

Names often awaken associations - when we hear a name, most of us will, for at least a split second, think of a family member, friend, coworker, or just an obnoxious acquaintance we know by that name and may transpose that person's traits onto the fictional character.

Certain names may also be unfairly imbued with personality traits - a Michael or Joseph, at least initially, is more likely to be viewed as conservative or boring whereas a Ty or a Zak may be thought of as hip and young.

And then there are the names that carry unavoidable stereotypes - think Judas or Adolph.

The name we give our character also depends on the period our story is set in (how many Berthas or Helgas have you met lately?) and the country it takes place in (actually, if you were just in Germany, you may have run into quite a few Helgas).

With all that, naming my characters has been a bit of a challenge.  I am happy with my main character's name and those I chose for his immediate family members (I stuck with the names I gave them before I started writing), but I am still struggling with the names I gave to the secondary characters.

How do you go about naming your characters?  Do you know what name you will give them before you even start? Or do you simply google the yellow pages?

20 comments:

  1. This is such an interesting post.

    For my MCs I spend a decent amount of time trying to figure out what I want. For the MS I'm currently querying I googled 'fantasy names' and picked the ones I liked.

    For the MS I'm currently writing, it has a lot to do with stars and the universe and the MC's father is obsessed with both so I wanted my MC's name to reflect that, so I looked up all the constellations and found one I liked: Lyra.

    However, for all my secondary characters I just put down the first name that pops into my head when I'm writing. I find for those, instinct works well. I'm typing along. I need a name and WHAM, there it is.

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    1. Thank you Kelley - I seem to have done just the opposite - knowing what I wanted for MC but no idea on the others.
      It is so interesting to see how our approaches differ towards the same goal.

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  2. Baby books and phone books! At least, for Finding Meara, that's how they came about. For the next novel, the names came out of mythology and a song I heard on the radio. I always wonder if the names are good ones...

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    1. Thank you Lara.
      I tried baby books and for some reason they did not work for me :-(
      Phone books are a great resource though.

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  3. I don't usually spend much time figuring out names for my characters. They usually come to me naturally. That being said, I'm beginning to think there can be something to gain from really selecting names, especially names that have a ring to them.

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    1. Thank you Richard - I envy you for having the names come to you naturally. With the possible exception of the MC that never happens to me!

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  4. Now you understand why naming my characters often gives me nightmares. So much to think about.

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    1. I sure do! Some are winners, a perfect fit - but others?

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  5. Naming can be a nemesis. I always find myself reading names aloud, just to see how they sound in my sentences!
    Popping in as an A to Z Blogging Challenge participant. Please feel free to visit and comment on any of my blogs as well, leaving a link to your own post, so my readers can find you too!

    All on Blogspot.com and all in the A to Z Challenge

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    Happy A-to-Z-ing!
    Linda Ann

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    1. Thank you Linda - I'll definitely visit!

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  6. Oh this is a great post and I remember having a similar post because I thought maybe I could get away with not giving my secondary characters a last name. The responses I received were very helpful and now everyone has a first and last name. Am I thrilled with my choices? Nope.:)

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    1. Oh, wouldn't that be great ? To have to suffer through first names only? I know I should not but I think I am still trying to get away with it for some of them anyway :-)

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  7. The first major character I ever created was named Jim Wilson. *snore ......* Actually it kind of fits him, as he's too darned serious and sincere to have an exciting name.

    I spend a lot of time creating characters, and much of that working on names, and sometimes I ever get it right. Sometimes I give them meaning, as with "Storm Chaser's" Chance Hamlin, a cop and volunteer firefighter, who gets mad when his mother insists he's well named.

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    1. Thank you Mark - giving meaning to the main character's name is a good tool I hope to utilize at some point too. Congrats on Storm Chasers.

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  8. Unless I need a name to have historical significance or be of a certain nationality, I pretty much just let them come to me. I find last names harder to come up with than first names. For my current WIP, I have a mix of very common names and some very uncommon names. That was actually fun, blending the two.

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    1. Hi Kelly - that's interesting - for me, the first name is so much tougher than the last!

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  9. Hi! I'm a new follower from the AtoZ Challenge. Nice to meet you. :)

    Naming characters is essential!

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    1. Thank you Margo - I'm glad we "follow" each other now.

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  10. Sometimes I mix and match names from a nationalities list online if I'm looking for a foreign name. Sometimes the character has the name fully formed.

    There are a couple of names I won't use for characters, associated with people I have a strong dislike towards.

    And I do have one character in my book, Jacob Dayan, who was originally to be named Jacob Cohen. I quickly changed it early on when I found out that was the actual name for Rodney Dangerfield. I'd have never been able to take him seriously if I'd left the name in place.

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  11. Thank you William. Now that I have thought of it some more, I won't use certain names even if I have a positive association to the person with that name - I would be afraid it would "overtake" my mc.

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