Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What's in a Name?

How do you come up with names for your characters?  And when you come up with them, how do you make them believable?

I recently watched the movie Gentleman Broncos, which I highly recommend to anyone who has ever:

a)  Been homeschooled
b)  Been to a local writer's workshop for young people
c)  Had a Writer in Residence at your school

Seriously.  This shit is so accurate I had tears streaming down my face while I was watching it.

There is a scene pictured above where the famous science fiction author at the writers' workshop, Chevalier, describes to a group of young writers how to create "believable" fantasy/sci fi names.  Chevalier has been lecturing them on how if you add "anous" or "ainous" to any name, it becomes... magical, when one small girl raises her hand.  She says that she has a troll in her book named Teacup, and Chevalier chastises her because it's not believable enough.

"It's just that I'm...as an author, picturing myself as a troll mother. I have just given birth to a litter of troll cubs, they're covered in placentia, pawing at my many teats, for this vital, life giving collostrum... Now I'm not thinking...hmmm...Teacup, am I?!"

Fair enough, Chevalier ;).  Fair enough.

My question to you is:  How do you come up with names for your character, and how do you keep them from edging into the ridiculous, like Harry Manchester, Werewolf Bounty Hunter?

What's your secret formula?


Anonymous said...

sounds like I'll have to see this!

i had to laugh at teacup and werewolf bounty hunter - which i like, lol.

i use baby name books mostly. sometimes a name will come on its own but that is rare. one of my MC's names was a suggestion from my cousin - i said "give me names!" and that was one of them.

i think they are believable if you believe them- if they fit, sounds right being said out loud.

Jorgh said...

I mostly do fantasy stuff, so usually I just make up names. I keep a little notepad document that I use for name storming. I try not to get anything too unruly or hard to pronounce, and aim for something that sounds semi-natural.

For the most part anyways, I do go a little crazier with location names and important people(like royalty, gods, etc).

Sometimes it's a real pain coming up with something I like, but I'm sure everyone has that problem every now and then, haha.

Abby Annis said...

Sometimes a name will just come to me, but usually I end up spending a lot of time going through baby naming websites when I'm looking for the perfect name. For last names, I like to read the credits of movies or TV shows.

For the made-up alien names, I've taken common names and altered them. For some, I've taken foreign words and tweaked them to fit a character or group or whatever I need them for. Then I try them out on my husband just as a final test. If there's a way to make fun of a name, he can usually come up with it. :)

Great post!

Jill said...

I also go through baby name websites to come up with names. For the main character in my story, I chose a more unique name, but for all the other characters I tried to make them common sounding names, so the readers would feel like they knew the characters better. This is a good question. I also test the names out on my family, mostly my teenage daughter to make sure the names sound good to her too.

Ray said...

Good question. I generally like to give my characters names that are distinctive and give a feel for what the character is all about. That's about it, really. And sometimes I have a name first and build the character around it.

How do I come up with names? Some just pop into my head. Some are the result of misreading a different name (perhaps I have a very mild case of dyslexia, because it happens fairly often). But when I come up with a good one, it sticks in my head.