How do we come up with names for fictional characters?

Discuss writing, including writing tips & tricks, writing philosophy, writer's block, etc. If you have grammar questions, marketing questions, or if you want feedback on a poem or short story you wrote, please use the corresponding forum below.
Featured Topic: How to Get Your Book Published
Forum rules
If you have spelling or grammar questions, please post them in the International Grammar section.

If you want feedback for poetry or short stories you have written, please post the poem or short story in either the Creative Original Works: Short Stories section or the Creative Original Works: Poetry section.

If you have a book that you want reviewed, click here to submit your book for review.
Post Reply
tobeywilson
Posts: 17
Joined: 16 Apr 2014, 13:35
Bookshelf Size: 0

Re: How do we come up with names for fictional characters?

Post by tobeywilson »

Sometimes I pull names out of thin air, or throw syllables together until i get something I think matches the character. Sometimes I search name meanings or use baby name websites.

R_H_Ali
Posts: 32
Joined: 09 May 2014, 13:55
Bookshelf Size: 0
Reviewer Page: onlinebookclub.org/reviews/by-r-h-ali.html

Post by R_H_Ali »

When choosing names for my characters, I research the meanings of names to find one which best fits the character's personality. I find this process highly rewarding when the name sticks and allows the character to develop to his/her namesake.

User avatar
moderntimes
Posts: 2249
Joined: 15 Mar 2014, 13:03
Favorite Author: James Joyce
Favorite Book: Ulysses by James Joyce
Currently Reading: Grendel by John Gardner
Bookshelf Size: 0
fav_author_id: 2516

Post by moderntimes »

Needing gangbanger names, I went online and viewed real wanted gangsters, then massaged their names a bit, mixed first and last, came up with composites. All were Hispanic but this is an Hispanic gang anyway.

I don't try to match personalities with names, as people don't get to pick their names and using stereotypes, like "snarly" names for bad guys and flowery names for heroines is juvenile.

My novels are set in a realistic and modern Houston, so I use varied ethnic names, Hispanic and African-American and Asian and others, as well as Anglo.
"Ineluctable modality of the visible..."

User avatar
jeaneenp
Posts: 6
Joined: 06 May 2014, 12:43
Favorite Author: J.K. Rowling
Favorite Book: Twilight Series
Currently Reading: The Princess and the Peer by Warren
Bookshelf Size: 0
fav_author_id: 1778

Post by jeaneenp »

I get online and look through the baby names as well. First I try to write up what I know about the character that I'm going to use and then I look for the name on a baby names website. Often I look at what the name means and what part of the world it comes from to make my decision.

CrescentMoon
Posts: 1073
Joined: 08 May 2014, 22:50
Currently Reading: Apollo's Raven
Bookshelf Size: 82
Reviewer Page: onlinebookclub.org/reviews/by-crescentmoon.html
Latest Review: "Letorian Descendants- Casey Blane Series (Book 1)" by Jodi Ann Fahey

Post by CrescentMoon »

It depends on the story, what mood I'm in and what kind of character I'm writing about. Sometimes I choose certain names because I really like the way they sound or because they are unique. Other times I want the name to be foreshadowing something later in the story or have the name be a mini description of who the character is. In that case, I look up the meanings of the names and try to find a name that fits the meaning.
Latest Review: "Letorian Descendants- Casey Blane Series (Book 1)" by Jodi Ann Fahey

User avatar
H0LD0Nthere
Posts: 444
Joined: 18 Jan 2014, 23:04
Favorite Book: Til We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
Bookshelf Size: 52
Reviewer Page: onlinebookclub.org/reviews/by-h0ld0nthere.html
Latest Review: "Adventures in space & fiction fantasy" by Robin G Howard

Post by H0LD0Nthere »

DATo wrote:I've always wondered about the legal ramifications of unintentionally using a name and profession (or other similarities) to a living person which could initiate a lawsuit for slander, libel, defamation of character or simple intrusion. In an attempt to locate someone I know on Facebook this morning I encountered dozens of "exact match" names and similar professions to the person I was looking for. I know books have the usual "All persons and events described are fictional and do not represent actual people living or dead ect ect ect" disclaimer but is this alone enough to protect an author if by pure dumb chance he or she too closely describes a human being, family, business or other organization if called into court?
I read that this happened once. The book was called The Beans of Egypt, Maine and was about a fictional incestuous family. The author had checked that there were no towns in Maine called Egypt, but it turned out there was suburb or something like that, and there was a family living there named Bean. I don't know how the court case went, it was years ago that I read about this.

-- 29 May 2014, 21:43 --

Some of my favorite authors have lots of access to good names because they have done a lot of historical research. Tolkien had read The Elder Edda and some other epics in the original Norse. He invented his Elvish (based on Welsh I believe) and Dwarvish (based on Norse) languages before ever writing the novel. I realize not all of us can go that far, but when you think about how steeped he was in the historical languages, clearly coming up with authentic-sounding names would not be a stretch for him.

Also, Ellis Peters (Edith Pargeter) was extremely well-versed in the history of medieval England, especially the Shrewsbury area, near the Welsh border. The name for her protagonist, Brother Cadfael, was an actual Welsh name from that time, but she deliberately picked a name that only occurred once in the historical documents she had come across.
Latest Review: "Adventures in space & fiction fantasy" by Robin G Howard

User avatar
moderntimes
Posts: 2249
Joined: 15 Mar 2014, 13:03
Favorite Author: James Joyce
Favorite Book: Ulysses by James Joyce
Currently Reading: Grendel by John Gardner
Bookshelf Size: 0
fav_author_id: 2516

Post by moderntimes »

Regarding legal ramifications, there are none unless the person named is maybe someone you know. All that's needed is that you had zero idea the person was "real" and of course the character is nothing like the real person. This can happen more with realistic fiction of course, as the names you select will be the sort of real names that exist, rather than fanciful fantasy names. But the disclaimer on the copyright page of your book clearly states that there is no correlation between real and fictional persons, and courts have always sided with the publisher / author on these accidental cases.

Regardless, you've got to be careful. Let's say you've got a grudge against some person, say, a former girlfriend who dumped you named Sharon Cramer and you then "create" a character in your book who's named "Sharie Creemer" and she's described precisely as the real girl appears (tall, redhead, tattoo on her... you know) then you're in a world of hurt.

You don't even need to mention the person by name. A pending case relates to the bio of the late US Seal sniper who had the most kills of any US soldier ever. In his book, he talks about a run-in at a bar where many Seals hang out, where a "famous actor" who claims to have been a Seal was bragging and got his butt kicked. Well, even though the person was not named, attorneys for Jesse Ventura filed suit and although the sniper was subsequently murdered by a deranged vet later, the defamation lawsuit against Ventura was allowed to proceed against the sniper's estate.

So be VERY careful when describing characters, especially in a fictional work set in realistic current times. If you've got a grudge against that tall, redhead Sharon Cramer, change her to a short brunette named Alice Wilson -- for example.

As I'm writing a series of modern American private detective novels, and as the stories are realistic and not "fanciful", I populate my books with characters bearing realistic names, some Hispanic, Asian, other ethnic background, I've got to be very careful. My protagonist is "Mitchell (Mitch) King" and his best pal is a homicide cop named "David Meierhoff" and I'm certain that somewhere there are real people with those names. However, should those real people try to file lawsuits, their claims would be dismissed summarily, in that I have zero contact or knowledge of these real people and, as the disclaimer on the copyright page of your book says, "coincidental" is allowed.

Realize also that you aren't the first person in the history of writing to make up character names that match real names. The whole situation has been hashed out in the courts a century ago.

-- 30 May 2014, 12:00 --

Incidentally, in my new just-completed novel, I had a character named Katrina (Katie) and later realized that I had an establish character named Kathryn (Kate). Duh. So, the character being Hispanic, I googled for a list of female Hispanic given names and picked one, then I simply changed "Katrina" or "Katie" to "Renata" or "Rennie" and so, thank you, MS-Word!

Many moons ago I used a manual typewriter and I shudder to consider the efforts in searching for every occurrence of a word and manually changing it. Whew!
"Ineluctable modality of the visible..."

User avatar
Katherine E Wall
Posts: 138
Joined: 13 Jul 2013, 14:14
Bookshelf Size: 36
Reviewer Page: onlinebookclub.org/reviews/by-katherine-e-wall.html
Latest Review: "Vietnam Memoirs: Part 1" by Don Bonsper

Post by Katherine E Wall »

For minor characters, I have been known to grab a phone book, open it to one page, close my eyes and point. That is the first name or initial which I then play with until I get the right one. I close the book, open again, and point once more, and that will be the last name or some manipulation of it, unless there is an particular ethnic or cultural group I want the person to belong to.

For major characters, I just know their names. I would say they tell me their names, but then you would think I am crazy.

Just because I am, doesn't mean I want everyone to know.
"We awaken the muse with the spirit of creativity. We entomb it with the ghoul of self-doubt."

That's right, I have a muse. It is spelled MusE. My writing is influenced by the interactions of people I meet - us and ME.
Latest Review: "Vietnam Memoirs: Part 1" by Don Bonsper

User avatar
fictionmyreality
Posts: 1
Joined: 02 Jun 2014, 04:09
Bookshelf Size: 0

Post by fictionmyreality »

Other languages are always fun and knowing the characters traits or past always help with naming, but I'm a sucker for foreign lanquages

-- 02 Jun 2014, 07:36 --

Other languages are always fun and knowing the characters traits or past always help with naming, but I'm a sucker for foreign lanquages

User avatar
moderntimes
Posts: 2249
Joined: 15 Mar 2014, 13:03
Favorite Author: James Joyce
Favorite Book: Ulysses by James Joyce
Currently Reading: Grendel by John Gardner
Bookshelf Size: 0
fav_author_id: 2516

Post by moderntimes »

Selecting character names is fine, but picking names that describe a character is a bit juvenile and fake, I think. Does anyone get named by parents who know in advance the person's outcome, personality, and life's work?
"Ineluctable modality of the visible..."

User avatar
Katherine E Wall
Posts: 138
Joined: 13 Jul 2013, 14:14
Bookshelf Size: 36
Reviewer Page: onlinebookclub.org/reviews/by-katherine-e-wall.html
Latest Review: "Vietnam Memoirs: Part 1" by Don Bonsper

Post by Katherine E Wall »

moderntimes wrote:Selecting character names is fine, but picking names that describe a character is a bit juvenile and fake, I think. Does anyone get named by parents who know in advance the person's outcome, personality, and life's work?
Absolutely, and nothing pushes me out of the fictive dream faster than a name that is contrived. Except of course, terrible grammar and spelling, but then, I am usually not able to suspend disbelief long enough to engage deeply with the book.
"We awaken the muse with the spirit of creativity. We entomb it with the ghoul of self-doubt."

That's right, I have a muse. It is spelled MusE. My writing is influenced by the interactions of people I meet - us and ME.
Latest Review: "Vietnam Memoirs: Part 1" by Don Bonsper

User avatar
moderntimes
Posts: 2249
Joined: 15 Mar 2014, 13:03
Favorite Author: James Joyce
Favorite Book: Ulysses by James Joyce
Currently Reading: Grendel by John Gardner
Bookshelf Size: 0
fav_author_id: 2516

Post by moderntimes »

I try to make my character names realistic, as my novels are set in the modern and very real Houston, and the characters "real" and not contrived. Writing a series of private detective novels, and looking joyfully through some old pulp era PI books you'll find the goofiest and most unrealistic character names you can imagine, like it was from some juvenile fantasy novel (Potter, etc)
"Ineluctable modality of the visible..."

Divephantom19
Posts: 14
Joined: 03 Jun 2014, 00:07
Bookshelf Size: 2
Reviewer Page: onlinebookclub.org/reviews/by-divephantom19.html

Post by Divephantom19 »

I keep a list of interesting names. Also check phone books in other cities.

User avatar
moderntimes
Posts: 2249
Joined: 15 Mar 2014, 13:03
Favorite Author: James Joyce
Favorite Book: Ulysses by James Joyce
Currently Reading: Grendel by John Gardner
Bookshelf Size: 0
fav_author_id: 2516

Post by moderntimes »

Had a small change in my new novel. I had one minor character whom I named by picking the name up out of the air, "Cramer MacKenzie" but then reconsidered, thinking this is too interesting and catchy a name to waste on a small character. So I've saved that name in my "to do" file for later books and now the character is named "Eddie Mcintyre".
"Ineluctable modality of the visible..."

tangowithParis
Posts: 70
Joined: 23 May 2014, 13:29
Bookshelf Size: 0

Post by tangowithParis »

Before I commit anything to print, I run it by Quentin Tarrantino. I liked his selection
of names in Pulp Fiction. Fiction that is satirical doesn't suffer when you have names
like "Miss Moneypenny", "Q", or "Goldfinger." If a book takes a serious look at a subject,
you'll use "serious" names. In "The Ugly American", all the American diplomats had
patrician names, like Gordon MacWhite. I don't recall being putoff by a character's
moniker. But I don't read distopian, any book with Zombie in the title, or anything Oprah
likes. I've read "On The Road" a dozen times. It is a very important book to me. Besides
Dean Moriarity, I can't remember any of the character's names(One more, Sal Paradise).

Post Reply

Return to “Writing Discussion”