Hell's Half Acre (hells_half_acre) wrote,
Hell's Half Acre

Writing is Hard: Naming Characters

To continue with my summer series of posts about writing... let's pick up on something I didn't want to get into during my post about Formulating Characters....

Topic 3: Naming Characters

I called this a "whole other kettle of fish" in my last post. It's very rare that I name a character before I've created them. The exception to this is in the fantasy novel that I'm trying to write, but that's just because some of the characters were created, really, by my BFF as jokes between us, and he usually always started with an absurd name and went from there.

Anyway, let's divide this up:

Fanfiction and NOT High Fantasy/Scifi.

So, yes, usually I think of the character first and then come up with a name. Sometimes it's as simple as me telling my Welsh friend "I need a name for a priviledged rich white asshole" and them saying "David Cameron" and me discarding David, because all the Davids I know are related to me and/or adorable baby boys and I love them - and then using Cameron, because that's definitely the name of white guy, and Cameron in Ferris Bueller's Day off was also rich - so it works! (The story I use Cameron in is a WIP and not published yet)

If it's a throwaway character, I'll usually just pick a common name - John, Nate, James, Jeremy, Phil, Chris, Sarah, Mary, Jessica, Rebecca, etc. Same goes for more diverse character names - I just pick whatever common name suits the ethnicity - Ahmed, in DDD is an example of this. Though, he's the only one that springs to mind, because I DO have a problem with not defaulting to white guys. But hopefully I've had others over the years....

For more important characters, I put WAY too much thought into it.

I mean, some are easy - Iggy and Andy from DDD are simply because I wanted a common muggle name - Andrew. And then a name that only pompous rich people still use (or old fashioned pure blood wizard types) - Ignatius.

Characters like Till... I choose names based on character background and meaning. Till got his first name from a guy that I once knew (see my Formulating Characters post)... but his last name I chose based solely on the character's background.

Till, being of Swedish decent, needed a Swedish lastname. So, I usually go to a site like behindthename.com and surnames.behindthename.com and surch by ethnicity... then I look for meanings. For Till, I wanted it to be something soft, and possibly something related to medicine - since Till is an OC in the Harry Potter universe, where people's names tend to reflect their occupations/lives/conditions. I mean, Remus Lupin was apparently bitten by a werewolf as a child, but his name was already "*person raised by a wolf* Wolf" and Sirius Black didn't become an animagus until he was a teenager, but it's no wonder his animagus form is a big black dog when his name is literally Dog Black.

So, I wanted Till's name to reflect an aspect of his personality - his soft voice - and something possibly about his vocation. I also needed a name that might be intimidating for non-Swedish people to pronounce at first glance - since I needed a reason why Harry never spoke to Till using his last name (as Harry often does with others). I decided on Till Ljung. Ljung being from the name of the Heather plant. I liked the idea of Till behind named after a flower, especially in a magical universe where more plants can be used for healing.

Similarly, Nate Lewin, has the last name Lewin, because it means "Dear Friend" in Old English. It's pretty transparent!

Anyway, that's usually what I do, at least in fic... just pick names based on ethnicity, how common I want them to be, and meaning.

Usually, the universe you're writing in already has established rules for names. Star Trek's Vulcans always have names like Spock, Sarek, Sorek, Sybok, Tuvok, T'Pring (sp?), T'Pal, etc.

Merlin usually uses Welsh names or names or Old English names... so you can find resources for those too.


Now, in the original fantasy novel that I'm currently trying to write, I had to come up with other ways of naming characters - because it's not earth. It's my very own middle-earth type place, with different countries, ethnicities, history, religion, etc.

It'd be weird to write a high fantasy novel and use the names Dick and Jane, you know? Or names like Muhammed or Christian... where, you know, those names clearly have very specific context in real-world cultures, and wouldn't make sense as common names in a world that had no Islam or Christianity.

That's why authors like Tolkien, and Jordan, come up with names that can be BASED on our languages, but not really reflect anything about our cultures. Frodo doesn't mean anything to us out of context. Eowyn DOES but only in old English, and it wasn't a common name anymore, so we just recognize it as "Yeah, that sounds like a name that would belong to a human."  Likewise, I'm sure Tolkien benefitted from how similar Galadriel sounds to angel-names (Gabriel, Raphael, etc) even though Elvish was based on Celtic languages.

Or it could be as simple as Jordan having a character names Mat, but only spelling it with one T. Matt, registers to us as a very common modern-times diminutive of Matthew. Whereas, Mat registers as a weird name.

So, who cares what they did, what do YOU do?!

Oh man, let me know when you figure it out. But I'll tell you what I've done... I have several different naming conventions:

1. Name people after sounds - Snick, Bada, Humm... or animals - Dove, Kit(ten), Lark, Rac(coon)...

2. Misspellings and typos. This is where the names Nenver and Essya come from... and those are my only two examples of where the name comes first. My BFF and I used to define our typos as new words. ("to apollophize" means to increase to god-like proportions.) Nenver and Essya, for some reason, we turned into characters.

2. Name people using portions of other words, I kinda already showed you this with the animals option above, but, here's more examples...let's go with flowers. Marig from Marigold. Chrysa from Chrysanthemum... or you could do the ends of the words. Santhem. Odil, from Daffodil.

3. Take words from different languages and anglecize them so completely that they look and sound like different words. Tav'rev... from Taibhreamh (Dream, in Irish Gaelic)

4. Things that are fun to say - Olaya, Jafa.

5. Portmanteaus - we already do it with shipping, why not just combine other names to make weird sounding ones? Maybe not Bennifer, but you know - Sastiel/Samstiel could be a name. So could Spirk, depending on the character, or it could be a last name. Kircoy. Jarevieve... Dansen. Jenneel.... you get the picture.

I also just made one country Irish, because I really like the name Maeve and I wanted to use it. So, screw it. :P

Another country, I was using Native American names, but now I'm worried that I'm culturally appropriating, because the characters are not Native American looking... they're actually Nigerian looking... so, year, I might change all those names. (For some reason, I don't feel the same trepidation of giving all my east-Indian looking-characters Irish names. I guess it's do to with cultural history and representation. Anyway, yeah, probably going to change all the Native American names for ones that I make up.

Anyway, that's naming for you! It's a whole kettle of fish... or possibly can of worms. :P
Tags: writing tips

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