How do you choose your character’s names?

by Doug Langille

Here’s a wide open topic:

Do you choose a character’s name because it just sounds right or does it have to have meaning?

Is a strongman named Sampson and a betrayer named Cain?

Do you grab the nearest baby-names book, put on a blindfold and stabby-stab with your pudgy finger?

After some informal surveying with other writers, name generation falls in to one of the following two camps:

The Researcher:

  • Randomly pick some names, find out what they mean and match them based on personal preference and fitness to the characters’ personalities.
  • Look for names that are popular during the time period, social-economic class, ethnicity and geography. Great sources include newspaper obituaries and the History Channel.
  • Construct them on purpose. For example, the use of alliteration, aural patterns and tropes to create names is common in superhero and larger-than-life serials (Flash Gordon, Clark Kent, Tom Swift, Dick Tracy, Lois Lane, Pepper Potts). Try to avoid names that are explicitly tied to iconic characters like Conan, Elric, et al.
  • Consider how people with a certain name are portrayed in other fiction. Names are usually suggestive to some degree. Duke, Max, Buddy and Billy usually denote someone of more physical prowess, whereas names like Dexter, Stephen, James and Jameson might be considered more intellectual.
  • Other sources:

The Muse Consulter:

Sometimes, writers try too hard to come up with great names. Just go with your gut, because names come as they come. What you read will influence what you write.

  • Think of everyday normal names or make them up on the fly
  • Glance at the nearest newspaper, choose the first name from an exciting word, and dream up an unusual last name.
  • Sometimes characters form with a name and vivid visual already attached.
  • Naming villians and good guys can be colored by personal experience. If you dislike a person in the real world, you will never call your hero that name.

In the end, regardless of what you’re writing, you have to believe the name— not ‘like’ it, believe in it.

So, is involved name etymology a passion for you?

Inquiring minds wanna know….

Many thanks to Delores, Matt, John, James, Tim, Ray, Anthea, Rachel, Kayleigh, Karen, Eric, Cameron, Riss-Ryker and Kay for their contributions to this post. http://www.writerscarnival.ca/how-do-you-choose-your-characters-names/

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