Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Way We Are: Name Inspiration

One of, hands down, THE greatest / hardest thing about being a writer is being able to name people other than your own children.  I mean, seriously! How many people get that opportunity? And let's face it: it's a pretty hefty responsibility. The perfect name can make such a difference. Which prompts the Way We Are question of the week:

Where do you get your inspiration for character names?

Baby name websites? Street signs? The credits at the end of a movie? People from your childhood / your life now? A box of crayons? Maps? A distortion of a quality that character possesses?

Do you go for names that are bizarre? Different? Common? A combination of common and uncommon for first and last names? Do you look at the sound, initials, or nick-name potential? Do you look for words that AREN'T typically names?

Let us know! I think I speak for everyone when I say that we're all dying to find out.


Leigh Ann said...

This is going to bring out the 100% complete and total geek in me. My current WiP is about misfit superhero kids, so all of them have the same last names as our favorite superhero alter-egos. No particular significance as to which ones, though - that part was whatever sounded good. My two mains have the last names "Grey" and "VanDyne."

After that, I try to fit the names to their personalities. For my female MC, I wanted something that sounded classic and beautiful, but subtley so. And maybe something that would add to her insecurities. And my male MC needed to be something masculine and classic, and a bit geeky.

So, what that translates to is: normally I share these goals and the names I've chosen with my CPs, they laugh at me for awhile, then they suggest names that ACTUALLY accomplish what I wanted.

And they are always right.

E.R. King said...

I try to figure out my character's personality first and then pick a name that I think suits who they are. Is that weird?

Patti said...

I think it's definitely one of the greatest things about being a writer. I write fantasy so I usually look for themed names or bizarre names, but names that you can pronouce.

Jenny S. Morris said...

I try to match the meaning of the name with the person's personality. It doesn't always work. But, I looked up Warrior and came up with the name Kella. Which total fits her, and I love it. I did that for the bad guy too.

I love how J.K. Rowling picked names that sounded like the character sometimes. Dumbledore, Hagrid and Snape. She is great at that!

Angela Brown said...

I try to work out a few character traits then decide whether I want to pick something that fits their personality or purposely choose something that is a bit of the opposite. Other times, I just go with something a bit different. For instance, I have no reason for it but the name Macie popped into my head for my NaNo story's femaile main character, who is a faery but doesn't know it yet, and Thane for her best friend (who is a male and her kiss unleashes his guardian angel abilities).

Stacy Henrie said...

Kind-of odd, I know, but I usually know what letter the character's name needs to start with before I know the actual name. :)

Most of my character names are pretty common. I try to stick with period-appropriate names since I write historicals.

Bea Sempere said...

This is a great topic.

I get my inspiration for character names at different places then I look into the derivation if it's important for the story.

I've found character names and surnames on the social security site and sometimes I'll just hear a name and decide to use it in a short story or other writings.

It's weird, but I also get character names and story ideas from public bathroom stall writings. LOL! And no, I don't sit there for hours while the rest of you are crossing your legs as you wait.

S.P. Bowers said...

Some of my characters come with names already attached. For the other ones, main characters- I just keep writing, they'll tell me their name eventually. Minor characters only mentioned once or twice- I'll use a baby registry on line and find something that sounds like the tone of the book but is different than other names so I don't have a bunch of characters that all sound alike.

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

I have a hard time deciding on and settling on character names. Yet, nicknames come to me fairly easily. What is that?

Ruth Josse said...

I'm actually not that picky. Apparently I'm not appreciating the power I have. I find names similar to the way Jenny does. I like to match meanings with personality. And I don't like anything too weird.

Abby Fowers said...

I love weird names but I will throw some common ones in there too. Inspiration can come from anywhere and everywhere. Even blogging!

Anonymous said...

Honestly? I open a random article on and see if the first name of the person who wrote the article fits the character in my head. Every so often the name comes with the character in my head, but usually the news.

Is that strange?

Tara Tyler said...

i love making up names, you know!
you saw my wv (word verification) name post =)
i also like authentic ethnic & generational names. there are sites for everything!

prerna pickett said...

I think of all the names I wanted to name my kids but my husband hated. That's usually how I get names. When it comes to villains, I try to think of people that were mean to me growing up, lol. Actually, I like to find names that sound 'sinister'.

Faith E. Hough said...

Depends on the story, but for my historical fiction I totally stalk dead people in the cemetery... Well, you know, steal their names anyway. And family names from my genealogy are fun, too.

Carrie Butler said...

Oh my goodness. I pore over baby websites, census listings, newspaper articles, family trees, etc. I have to read each name out loud, to see if it fits. (Even if there are hundreds.) I'm ridiculous. I spend waaay too long on the process. ;)

Iain said...

I had to thing really hard about this. In the end, I have to conclude that I don't know where the names come from.
I come up with a character, and when I buid them up, they already come with a name.
What do you do? We're dying to know ho you do it, as much as you are on finding out about us :o)

Cortney said...

The names usually just pop into my head, like the character has an opinion on it or something! And if I try something that doesn't work, I can just tell. This name doesn't fit this character. Kind of crazy.

Imogen said...

I find random name generators are useful, especially for last names. I hate making up last names. Apart from that, I use names suggested to me, names I just like, and names that come with the character.

Tonja said...

If a name doesn't immediately come to me, I describe the kind of name i want and go from there. My kids are great at brainstorming names with me. Last names are more difficult.

Richard said...

I use a combination of methods: whatever pops into my head, scan the telephone directory, books of names, names I've heard and thought interesting. To be honest, most of my characters have common names.

Nancy Thompson said...

I listen mostly. When I hear a name I like, I jot it down. For me it;s mostly about the rhythm of the first and last names together. And I like names that have an ethnic vibe to them, like Duncan for someone who has Scottish ancestry or Ezra for Jewish ancestry. And I also like to look at the credits after a movie or TV program. You see some pretty interesting names that way.

Angela Cothran said...

Picking names might be my favorite thing about being a writer. It is like having hundreds of kids you don't have to feed or pick up after! I get to use names I love that my husband would never let me use--and no one else gets a say! I makes me drunk with power!

Melissa Sugar said...

I love naming my characters. It is one of the best parts of being a writer. I don't have one specific way, rather I use a combination of many of those you listed. I also have a name bank which is basically a list of names that I think of that don't fit any character in my WIP that I like so I save it for later. If I am writing about characters in New Orleans, Charleston, or somewhere in the deep south I look through phone books in that region (no, I never use the same first and last name of a real person). Sometimes I just hear a name that I like. Sometimes I look at baby names. I don't give my characters a name until after their personalities have developed.

Great post and really awesome artwork (the question mark with all of the photos). I love it

Lan said...

Naming characters is one of the most wonderful processing for a writer. Sometimes I will come across an unusual name and then a whole story idea will evolve from there! It can be a bit of a trap though because sometimes I get so obsessed with having a cool name that I don't/can't change it when it becomes obvious the name doesn't work. I'm struggling with that now! As so where I get my names from: everywhere!! Including writing very obvious blog posts asking for suggestions from blogger friends!

Peggy Eddleman said...

Leigh Ann-- I LOVE your last name inspiration! And I totally love that your CPs laugh then suggest awesome names. What more could you ask of a CP? That's gold right there. Laughing and all. :)

E.R.-- Um... if that's weird, then I'm weird, too. So let's say it's not. ;)

Patti-- Now fantasy is where you can really get creative with names! That can either be a whole lot of fun, or really, really hard. (And as a reader, thanks for making them pronounceable. I appreciate it.)

Angela-- That's so cool to choose a name that's purposely the opposite of their personality! I love that. But I REALLY love when their name just comes to you. SO much easier that way! And those are some pretty darn great names, too.

Stacy-- I've had characters whose name I felt started with a particular letter, too! It's so nice to narrow down the possibilities.

Bea-- Social Security sites! I've never thought of that! Um... Can't say I thought of the bathroom stall, either... But thanks for not making us wait. ;)

E.D. said...

It's definitely a challenge! I usually develop my characters first and then think of names that fit them. An ordinary character will get a more ordinary name than a someone who has unusual characteristics. While working, I often refer to characters as Mom, Son, Neighbor etc.

Peggy Eddleman said...

S.P.-- I am really jealous of you right now.

Cynthia-- I love a good nick name! And they aren't the easiest thing to come by, either. I say if you can chose one naming super-power, nick names is the one to have!

Ruth-- Appreciate the power! Get drunk on the power! And I love a good matching-meanings-with-personality name.

Abby-- From blogging?! Really? Now that's a resource I've never thought to tap!

Joshua-- Wow. I am in awe right now. I think that might be the single most fascinating idea I've ever heard.

Tara-- Haha! That was definitely an awesome post on names! And clearly I haven't been tapping into the best sites. You should do a post about your resources, and then tell me you did it so I can make sure I see it!

Prerna-- That's hilarious! On both the names your hubby didn't want your kids to be named AND the naming of your villians. LOVE it!

Faith-- That should be your tag-line on your blog or something. "I totally stalk dead people in the cemetery." It has a nice ring to it, don't you think? Seriously, though, way cool idea for name gathering.

Carrie-- Yes! I can rest easy knowing now that someone takes longer in the process than I do. Whew! Huge relief! Thanks for helping a girl out. :)

Iain-- That's about the best way ever of finding names- using the one they came with! Brilliant!

I had thought about the fact that I didn't tell my way. I guess it didn't work with the pacing of the post. Plus, it's just not as interesting as hearing everyone else's! :) I use baby name sites, maps, street signs, I keep a list of cool names and go through it when I am in need of a name for more unique characters, and I use sites that show the top 100 names for the year a particular character was born if they are a more common character. Oh, and I pilfer names from the fourth graders I work with on occasion. There you go.

Cortney-- I am insanely jealous of your inherent naming powers.

Imogen-- I hadn't thought of random name generators! And suddenly you reminded me that I need to change the last name of my MC in the next couple of days. I'm going to go out and try a random name generator now!

Tonja-- I think I should start including a description of the type of name I want in my WIP when I can't think of one right off. What a great idea! And yay for kids! Mine just give the names of people they know. The same people I tend to know. Not nearly as helpful. :)

Richard-- Ooo! Telephone directory! That's a good one.

Nancy-- I jot down names I love, too, and look at movie credits! I love the thought of naming them based on their ethnic background.

Angela-- Your comment made me laugh out loud! Hundreds of kids you don't have to feed or pick up after! That is awesome. Totally the kind of thing to make you drunk with power.

Melissa-- Phone books for the region the character came from is such a great idea! I'm going to have to try that. I have a hard time naming a character until their personalities come through, too. And I can't take credit for the artwork. can. :)

Lan-- Wow! A story based on an awesome name! That's incredible! And quite fascinating.

E.D.-- I totally agree with giving an ordinary name to an ordinary character, and a more unusual name to an unusual character! It makes things that much more interesting.

Misha said...

I pick names that feel right. Sometimes my characters give ME their names. ;-)

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

I don't really have a system. I just try things out until I find something that feels right. It's not an exact science by any means, and sometimes I get half way through a story and realize I've gotten it all wrong and have to change it :) I'm interested to read what everyone else does!

Katie Dodge said...

My WIP is a Historical, so I checked the census of the state my book is set in to get ideas. And I threw in a few family names as well. My little shout out to the fam. :)

Stacy S. Jensen said...

It's fairly random for me. I may catch a name on an alumni newsletter or a list of invites to a 50th anniversary party. I've found a few names on gravestones.

Hannah Hounshell said...

I usually have a vague idea of how I want their name to sound when I'm faced with a new character. Then its a mix of who they're going to be in the story, what their personality is, and what the name itself means. There are a few exceptions to this, but not many.

Of course, that's just for first names. Last names are harder, and I usually take forever to pick them out. Thankfully the one upside of being a cashier is that I see plenty of last names everyday, so this isn't as bad as it seems.

Peggy Eddleman said...

Misha-- Ahh. The beauty of a character giving you their name. Makes the whole process so much easier!

Susanna-- Sounds like me! I used a placeholder name for my MC in the book I'm just finishing revisions on. It was an okay name that fit her fine, but it wasn't her name, know what I mean? I kid you not, it was a full year before I figured out what her name is. And now it's perfect. :)

Katie-- Ooo! Nice!

Stacy-- Those are the best ones-- the random ones that stick with you because of their awesomeness.

Hannah-- I love that you know sort-of what a name sounds like before choosing it. So awesome! And I agree. Last names are HARD!

Anonymous said...

Your The Best!!!!

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the name comes first and "tells" me some of the characteristics of the MC.

For others, I need to do some research. For example, in my current WIP, some events happen in 16th century France, others in 17th century USA so I had to make sure that the names could have been used in that period and then find one which fit the personality of my characters.

That´s for the first names...for the last names, the telephone book is indeed great :-)

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