Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Character Name Woes

I’ve probably written about this topic before, but I’m too lazy to search through my previous posts. Doesn’t matter, though. I’ve suffered from this problem for years, and as far as I can tell, will continue to suffer from it for many more.

I’m terrible at choosing character names.

I mean really, really bad.

I know other writers suffer from this malady too, but I take it to another level. Consider the fanfic story I’ve worked on for the past six years (Okay, so I’m a slow writer.). Almost half the characters still have placeholder names. Names I’ve ripped from other stories with vaguely similar characters. Names of personal friends. Names from RPGs.  Silly names suggested by my kids. Sometimes I just call them XXX and YYY, which drives my crit partner nuts.

I’m four chapters into my paranormal YA and I haven’t even decided upon a name for my protagonist yet. I toyed with the idea of using “Karen” for a while, but most of my crit partners hated the name, including a CP whose name is Karen. Said it sounded too old for an 18 year old. They suggested I look up common baby names for 1997, which is a good idea, but after perusing the lists, I still haven’t found a name I’m comfortable with.

Strangely enough, I did come up with a name I loved for the protagonist of the MG fantasy I wrote during Nano a few years ago. Unfortunately that manuscript has since been moved to the back burner to let the plot simmer, so it will be a while before I get back to enjoying the benefits of having a permanent name for my MC.

Such is the life of a newbie writer.

So how do you guys pick your character names?

13 comments:

  1. Bummer. Guess I'm lucky with science fiction names. I take about thirty minutes to brainstorm simple but alien sounding names and then match them to the characters. Sometimes I do that after I finish a story, which makes filling in the blanks rather challenging.

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    1. Maybe I'm just asking for too much in a name. Like it has to wow me or something.

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  2. I pick abnormal names for my non-human characters and fairly normal names for my human ones. :) Many of my original Thanmir War characters had Japanese based names. I figured it'd be too tough to read, and changed a bunch of names.

    If I'm looking for a specific character name, I look at meanings first and pick a name (or variation of the name) from the list.

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    1. I like looking through lists of Latin names to see if anything strikes my fancy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

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  3. I don't pick my character names. They do. When these characters pop into my head, they usually come with a name. If they don't, and I go searching through lists, they speak up and say: "That one!" whether I like it or not.

    If your character wants to be called Karen, let her be. Or suggest a variation and see if she likes it. As a 5th grade teacher for 25 years, I'll admit I haven't seen a Karen that wasn't a parent in ... um, ever. But what about Taryn, Koryn, Karey?

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    1. No, I don't think she wants to be called Karen either. It was just the name of a girl I had a crush on back in 4th grade or something.

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  4. It's strange, but I usually have an idea of their names when they first "visit" me. Sometimes it's nothing more than, "It starts with D," but it gives me somewhere to begin. I peruse lists of names that start with D until a bell goes off.

    For my MC in the Peter Stoller series—whose name is, not coincidentally, Peter Stoller—I originally wanted to call him Stephen. But he vetoed it. The title "St. Peter in Chains" came into my head, and I figured if I used that as a title, the character's name had to be Peter. (Peter is nodding as I type this.)

    I've noticed some names come up again and again for me. Charles. I look back at old stuff I've written, and Charles is always a gay British man. No idea why . . . Except my first "real" boyfriend's name was Charles. Hmm.

    My favorite book for this is an old Character-Naming Sourcebook by Writer's Digest. It's a fabulous resource.

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    1. I know why that doesn't work for me. When I first begin a story, my character is a blank slate, cardboard kind of character. It's only after the story is mostly finished that I figure out who the character is. Thnaks for the comment.

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  5. LOL at your CP named Karen hating the protagonist's name of your YA novel. I do agree that it's a bit of an old-fashioned name for a teenager in this era. Googling popular teenage girl names shouldn't be very hard, though. Read some YA novels with normal teen girl characters. Honestly, it's reading the same type of literature that I'm going to write that helps me with figuring out appropriate names for my MC's.

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    1. I guess I'm just not very decisive when it comes to names. I'm always figuring I can do better.

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  6. Symbolism. I like to take an aspect at the character's core and research names that incorporate that meaning. It definitely makes for some unique and well-fitted names. Another approach might be examining the character's background. What was going on with their parents when they named this kid? Would they have named him/her after a friend, something a family member hated out of spite, after a long-dead relative, the name of their imaginary friend as a kid?

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  7. Sometimes names just spring on me, and I don't know why. Other times, like Crystal, I choose a name based on the meaning or symbolism of the name. And then, there are times when I search and search and either make something up, or let the character run around with a name I don't like.

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  8. Like some of the others here, character names often just choose themselves. Sometimes, if it is a fantasy name for example, I have looked at online name generators. Once I even got a name idea from the side of a lorry. I used part of the name and changed it to suit. Researching names from the time is a good idea but if you want to use a name that maybe doesn't seem to suit the period maybe that could be a part of your character's story eg. a grand parent's name or the name of a pop star of the time, that kind of thing.

    Happy writing!

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