This is topic ...names.... in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by starsin (Member # 4081) on :
Alright...I've got this big problem with coming up with names that aren't A) Cheesy, B) Unreal-ish, C) Hard to pronounce, D) unoriginal, and E) Believable (did I spell that right?). I've got one name for one character that is working...and it's so original: Daniel. <dryly> Whoo hoo....

I'm sure that there's several something's on this already, and I'm sure that I'll get several links to these things, but how's about this, instead of not thinking and just saying "har har har...I'll just post links of things and not really think about what's going on." But that's cool if you do that to, 'cause it spares lazy me from having to go hunt those thigns down.

Anyhoo...anybody have any naming tips? I'm currently employed at a place called Philmont, working out in the hills, so my days on computers are limited. I get another one on the 1st. Plenty of time to come up with stuff, right?

Posted by Matt Lust (Member # 3031) on :
It depends are you doing Fantasy or Sci-fi or something else? Contemporary setting, past present future ?

Are you doing humans ie generic WASP culture like most American wrting, are you doing some specialized cultural setting where special rules need apply? Are you doing little green men, elves or pixes?

I can't remember where I read it but there's a fascinating "quiz" for fantasy writers. Its a list of 100+ things that have been done to death and if you answer yes to 1 the quiz's creator suggests that you should stop writing right then and rethink your story.

I mention this to say that one of those crappy things fantasy wrtiers are guilty of is having John Smith and Kyzricktan G'luoon'tuberg (not the names the quiz used) from the same village in the same remote part of the world with the same friends and family etc.

Language and culture never vary that much to let the same isolated village to "naturally" generate unrelated names.

I need more info before I can help.

Posted by AstroStewart (Member # 2597) on :
I think I've begun to get a knack for character names that are quasi-original, by scouring baby names websites for relatively obscure, but real names. Or by finding an obscure name and changing it to something else name-like. Or there is the tried and true method of taking a common name and switching a single letter/syllable, or swapping one sound combination for a similar but differently spelled sound combination. (Chris -> Chryss, Kris, Krys, etc. though this technique can be overdone.)

Recently I've had more difficulty with how to name towns, because few towns are just completely made up words/made up letter combinations. So every time I come up with a town name, it sounds even more silly/obviously made up to me than my character names. So on a related topic, does anyone have town-naming tips?

Posted by Matt Lust (Member # 3031) on :
authors site with a lot of really decent links

I was looking for that quiz I was talking about via google and came across this site.

Its got several links for names. They look halfway interesting.

Astrostewart place names also depend on culture and also how those place names are used. Europeans generally grafted names of people groups on to regions. Ie France is France because of the Franks who came and displaced the Gallic of Gaul. England is Angleland (Anglo is one from Angle) the Britains were displaced from the island of Alba when the saxons who came from the area we now know as saxony arrived. They in turn settled in the northwest parts of France in what we know as Brittany and Normandy then came back as the Normans. The Saxon called the people in the area we now know as Wales the Wales (it means stranger/forigner in Saxon) We also get the names Wallace Walter from this word.

The African civilizations the Sahara and norther sub-Saharan regions were fairly abstract in their place naming while the civilizations of places like the congo and zaire were fairly pedantic and prosaic in their place naming much like the Native Americans (Mississippi among others come to mind)

What culture is your people? Are they thinkers and academics? Farmers and Herders?

on a side note about the way we talk about food. The chinese use geographic areas to name the food from the region (Hunan, Sichuan, "Dong Bei" etc ) while americans, being the melting pot we are, use ethnic names to name the foods these have contributed to our menus.

Funny story about this is that the KFC Cajun Chicken Sandwhich in the US is the KFC New Orleans Chicken Sandwich in China. Not to mention how popular KFC is in china.

Posted by SilentOne (Member # 4814) on :
Fantasy Novelist's Exam
Posted by rstegman (Member # 3233) on :
Recently, I've dug through the junk mail for interesting names.

If you wait long enough, you will find some excellent possibilities. I used MOSS for a magic student and it worked nicely. I got Moss from junk mail listings.

Go to baby name books and look for names from cultures your readership is not well aquainted to. Just being a little different makes a big difference

Posted by rstegman (Member # 3233) on :
I have got to create a story involving most of those questions. I don't think I can get all of them into one novel, but Most of them would go really good.
I have to study the list and come up with a great plot......
Posted by Christine (Member # 1646) on :
Who are your characters?

Since the one name you do have is Daniel, then I'm sensing a real-world or future setting rather than alien world or other-wordly fantasy.

I make use of baby name web sites to help me name characters. For example:

Some of these search engines allow you to search by things like ethnic background, which could be helpful depending upon the type of story you're wanting to tell.

Also, the social security administration has collected data on the most popular names since the late 1800's. You can find all kinds of information here:

One of the things I find interesting is to look at trends in names. Every generation, people want to give their kids names that are unique -- not the ones they heard five people in their class having. So names tend to be cyclical. Sometimes, going with an old name in a future setting can be just the thing.


A few other "rules."

1. Don't duplicate first initials or make your names sound too similar for your main characters. For throw-away characters, it doesn't matter as much. (In fact, I've been known to pick two letters of the alphabet and put them in reserve for the 1 or 2-line characters.)

2. Just because things happen in real life, doesn't mean you should put them in your book -- for example, twins with rhyme-y names or best friends with the same name.

3. You seem to have the rest outlined in your first post -- they should be pronounceable, not cheesy, etc. Oh, and please don't use apostrophes. That's one of my big pet peeves.

Don't forget, too, that while names to create a first impression, your main character's actions are going to define them far more than their name. Daniel starts me off with an image of a strong, perhaps even kingly man, but you could easily turn him into a whiny spoiled prince if you like.

Orson Scott Card has a section on naming in "Characters and Viewpoint" that's pretty good. He also has some tips for coming up with weird alien or fantasy names. One thing I have noticed about weird fantasy names, for example, is that even if they kind of make me go, "Really???" when I first hear them, as I go through the story and the name is repeatd enough I often get used to it. There are very few unfamiliar names that don't make me do a double take at first but that's just what happens when I read fantasy and I cope with it.


Posted by Rick Norwood (Member # 5604) on :
Heinlein used a book on the meaning of names. All of his character names have meanings.

Larry Niven has an amazing ability to come up with names that are both alien and memorable. Kzin, Bebebebeque, Nessus, Speaker-to-animals.

I had a next door neighbor named Eric Wonderjim. I grabbed his name, and used it on a story I recently submitted to Boy's Life.

In the story for Ellery Queen I just finished, I got some of the names by looking at a list of the faculty and staff of the University of Amsterdam. (The story is set in Amsterdam.)

Names are where you find them.

Posted by djvdakota (Member # 2002) on :
Posted by rstegman (Member # 3233) on :
Definitions of names is only of use for those who are into definition of names. When I read my some thousand books in the 80s, I never knew a name had a definition and never cared. having the right definition had no effect.

I now go by how the name fits the character or the situation. I still don't care what the definition of the name is. What is important to me is that the name is sounds right.

Posted by I am destiny on :
If you are looking for unique names google utah baby namer website there are some doozies on there but some realy cool names too. 2 of my kids names are on there. (someone tattled on me...)if i can find the link I'll post it.

Here it is...


Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
In Passport to World Band Radio, I find a lot of interesting ethnic names in the "Addresses Plus" sections. (There's a new one out every year, but, for this, it doesn't matter.)
Posted by djvdakota (Member # 2002) on :

restegman, more than a cursory look at would show you that it is a fantastic resource for names, from the ordinary to the exotic, the ancient to the modern.

Hell with the meanings, unless you really want your character's name to mean something, in which case it's a doubly fantastic resource.

If you take a closer look, you'll see they have huge lists of names grouped by culture and country. It's particularly helpful, IMO, in finding varieties of names that can be realistically attributed to different cultures within your story, if that happens to be a problem you're tackling.

It also offers lists of popular names, lists of 'namesakes,' and a random name generator just for fun. You can look at lists of names from Africa, Estonia, the Bible, Welsh mythology, even Manx, for hell's sake! Ancient Egyptian, Macedonian, the lists go on and ON!

I highly recommend this site for searching for character names. It's the best I've found anywhere. In fact, I recommend it so highly, I'm going to post the link again!

[This message has been edited by djvdakota (edited June 27, 2007).]

Posted by JeanneT (Member # 5709) on :
About that fantasy writer exam... there are a number of things in it that are wrong at least by implication.

A good example:

"Does anybody in your novel ever stab anybody with a scimitar?"

Duh! Of course you CAN stab with a scimitar. That's why it has a point. You can stab with just about any sword with a point, well with any... but stabbing with a greatsword or claymore is a bit clumsy. There is nothing difficult about stabbing with a scimitar. And, in case you are wondering, I have indeed done it.

I have used a number of different swords. All fantasy writers who have them in their stories should take a class in that and horseback riding.

It would do more good than that irritating exam (sorry to rant but that exam always sets me off).

Names... I use a random name generator. It may take a few tries but eventually I get one I like. I say it a few times to be sure it doesn't sound weird and is pronounceable. I don't like real world names since one that seems "weird" to you is probably perfectly ordinary to someone in Utah or where ever. Then I google it just to make sure.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited July 06, 2007).]

Posted by Matt Lust (Member # 3031) on :
JeanneT you missed the point about points.

Its not that your can't stab people with scimitars but that those actually trying to actively stab with a scimitar are untrained buffoons.

Pics about Scimitars

While obviously you can stab with these weapons, its not likely that would be the first move of a trained swordsman/woman of this weapon. I say this primarily because based soley on appearances , stabbing/thrusting is not the actions of sword play scimitars were designed to primarily accomplish. Nor what someone trained to the point of expertise would primarily do with a scimitar.

Of course exceptions exist as these designs of these scimitars do not indicated one pervasive design requirement but generally the scimitar is a long sturdy blade designed for slashing with the occasional thrust.

I think the point the test creators are making is authors shouldn't don't treat every sword like a rapier when describing the action/the style of fighting.

Granted its not as bad as someone having their MC use ammo intended for use in a AK-47 (7.62) when in the heat of battle the MC runs out of ammo intended for M-16.(5.56)

[This message has been edited by Matt Lust (edited July 06, 2007).]

Posted by JeanneT (Member # 5709) on :
Maybe that is what they meant, Matt. But a lot of people take that to mean that you can't, and I've seen people say that you can't thrust with one. The degree of ignorance about swords is amazing.

If there is a reason why you want to thrust with a scimitar, I assure you that you can. Not only have I seen scimitars, I've used them. They thrust just fine. Soemone who thrusts with a scimitar isn't an untrained buffoon if for some reason they need to thrust instead of slash. In the course of a fight that is certainly possible. It just wouldn't be your first choice in moves.

And you pinpointed the reason I don't write SF. Get someone wrong on technology in SF and some tech type will ream you. Fantasy readers will forgive some amazing gaffes.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited July 07, 2007).]

Posted by Lynda (Member # 3574) on :
Back to the naming topic - I have a book that's a great help (I also use online resources). The book is "The Writer's Digest Character Naming Sourcebook." It groups names by ethnicity/nationality and includes a list of common surnames as well as first names (and meanings are included for those who like to know such things). THis book is available from Writer's Digest Books as well as brick-and-mortar bookstores (which is where I got mine), and probably Amazon, as well.


Posted by Zero (Member # 3619) on :
I have more trouble with location names than character names. That isn't to say I don't have trouble with character names. But eventually I get tired of combining two words into a name like Waterpool or Westwood...etc
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
Okay, from what I understand, surnames come about four ways:

1--patronymic--the name means son (or daughter) of someone (and different languages have different ways of indicating this)

2--location--the name means the person lives in a certain town or near a certain geographical feature (like a forest or a mountain)

3--occupation--the name refers to what the person does: Jim the Weaver, Jack the Smith, etc

4--description--the name refers to some attribute, accomplishment, or physical characteristic (Eric the Red(head), William the Conqueror, Charles the Bold)

These naming conventions can also apply to first names. Pick a language, look up the word in the language that you want to apply to your character and change it a little so it sounds like a name.

As for place names, they can follow similar creation patterns: named for the person who established the place or whom the people want to honor; named for where the place is (Westwood); named for what the place is famous for (trade goods or historical events); or named descriptively (Waterpool).

Posted by sakubun (Member # 5719) on :
I had a program called something like "Name Maker". It would produce up to 100 first and last names at a time of all origins. I found it really helpful even though I usually combined names rather than used what was suggested. I feel like it was freeware, but I can't remember. It was on an older computer.

There are also sites like but that site seems to make whole identities rather than just names. Although the whole identity thing can give some other info that could be helpful as well.

Posted by starsin (Member # 4081) on :
Hm...this is all good information and such. Since I have so much downtime (no joke...) at work, I have plenty of time to write, and I'm just starting to write one of my stories out from mere idea in my head to actual words on paper. So, my need for names is shockingly great. And Christine, the MC is Daniel, and yes, he is a strong, kingly-ish man. I'll come around one of these days and describe the story some...eventually.

Anyways...The story is set in the future/past. Difficult concept almost. The time is in the future, the society is one similar to the past. (Am I making any sense here?) character names I guess I could pull out of baby-naming websites and such. So...yeah. I don't really have anything more to say. I'm out for the time being. Thanks for all the help people!

- starsin

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