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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Naming

   
Author Topic: Naming
TaShaJaRo
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Has anyone ever had this experience? You work very hard to create a name for a character or culture or place in your writing only to find out, after you've become very attached to that name, that an identical or similar name already exists? It seems to happen to me constantly.

I need your opinion on something. I have a name for a race in my WIP that I just discovered is very similar to another race name by a popular author. I have never read any of this author's work so you can imagine my utter devastation when I found out that not only is the race name almost identical to mine but so is the story.

I understand that there are only so many basic story nucleui so I am willing to accept that similarity but I am feeling the need to change the name of my race so that it does not look like I simply copied this person's work.

What do you think?


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catnep
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I understand the attatchment to names, but if the person is a popular author wouldn't others be more likely to think you took it from them, especially if you have similarities in other areas? I suspect it would be easier to give up the name then the basic plot or other common element. For me personally I would rather not take the chance. As a matter of fact, I am doing a similiar change with one of mine.
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MichelleAnn
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I hate to say it; I would bite the bullet and change the name.

If it was just a similar name you would be okay (imo) but add on a similar plot...? I say you lose one or the other and I'm thinking that the name is more dispensible than the plot.

I'm sorry ... what a pain, right?
'Chelle Ann


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TaShaJaRo
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I agree. I would think I had pilfered the name if I was reading my work and had also read this other author. It just frustrates me, that's all. I'm wondering if it happens to other writers or if I'm just cursed with an identical imagination to everyone else?

I'm definately going to read the books now just to make sure mine isn't so close in plot that I need to discard that as well. I'm hoping that's not the case. I believe there really are only so many basic plots out there so I don't have any misconceptions that I'm going to be the one to come up with the one that's never, ever been done in the history of writing. Just as long as it's not identical.


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MichelleAnn
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I think that anyone who writes will inadvertently reproduce ideas that have already been done. Sometimes the similarities will be jarring.

Now that you know how of this other work though the prudent course is inserting a few more differences.
'Chelle Ann


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mikemunsil
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yeah, some musician named Kenny G. stole my character's name.
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Jaina
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Your dilemma reminds me of the controversy about book "Eragon." Every review I read for it had one thing in common: "Ever read Lord of the Rings? Ever heard of ARAGORN? Rip off!" I felt bad for the author, Christopher Paolini (I think I butchered the spelling, there...), but I knew where people were coming from, because I'd had the same thought. His books are still pretty successful, though, even though he seems to "steal" from so many places. Part of it is just that: it's more than one place that he's taking stuff from, and he blends them into his own story. For a teenager, I think he did a darn good job (I think he was 17 when he wrote the book, though I might be off by a couple of years). So I think it depends on how much your story seems to resemble this other one. If it's a painful amount, then change the name. If you think that you can work with it, don't bother.
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wbriggs
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Everything has been done before, and every pronounceable name of reasonable length must have been used somewhere.

All the same, when someone pointed out that whenever someone saw my character Jacqueline Smith, they'd think of a famous actress, I changed her last name to "Ross."


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Survivor
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What is the name in question?
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dspellweaver
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I have to agree. I would probably change the name especially since there are other similarities.

To help combat this possiblity, I have taken to googling the names of my characters if they are ones I have made up. You never know. One of my character's names ended up being the species name of a flower. Go figure.


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wbriggs
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That's a great idea. I've already been doing that for company names I make up.
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goatboy
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I always do a web search on names. Sometimes I get lucky, sometimes I don't.

One thing I have been doing lately for names is looking at street maps. Pick the names of two streets and put them together. Even if someone does jump on me later, I've got a paper trail showing how I arrived at the name, and what precautions I took to prevent using someone else's character.


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keldon02
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Worse than characters I had the same problem with my favorite pen name. So I ended up using my real name. Though it has the disadvantage of having been borrowed a couple decades ago by some fantasy games players and though its jarringly similar to that of a cowboy fiction writer it is mine and has been in the family for nearly a hundred years so that's that.

Then I found that the title I'd chosen for my first novel had about five hundred links to a cheesy porno story. So I changed it to something with zero links.

But as far as characters, that's the nice thing about the global find/replace function.


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Rocklover
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That is a bummer and has happened to me also. When I am put to it and have to come up with a "better" name and the right side of my brain is forced into hyperdrive, it usually results in a much better name in the end. Street maps and botanical names are not a bad place to start, but how about foreign names or names that hint at an inner character trait? I'd love to hear more ideas on how to come up with original names.

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TaShaJaRo
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Actually, I do Google them first but sometimes they are just different enough not to show up. As in this case.

To answer Survivor's question:
The name I created is three fold. The name of the race was named after a god they are thought to have been cursed by (similar to how Christian came from "little Christ.")
The god name is Dehyr.
The race name is Dehyrian.
The plural is Dehyriani.

Sound familiar to anyone? I don't want to say the name I discovered that it is similar to just yet. Let's see if anyone figures it out.
I have not come up with a new name yet though I have resigned myself to changing it. I spent a whole Saturday trying to come up with a new name and could not and got so frustrated that I decided to move on with what I had for now and keep it in the back of my head that it needs to change.

When I say that the story is similar, I mean only the story nucleus is similar. If that makes any sense. The nucleus can be similar while everything else is different. I believe there are only so many story nuclei out there so I am not too worried about that.

Thanks for the input!


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rickfisher
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Now you've got me going. The name does sound familiar to me--I think the one I've come across is either Derhyni or Derhinyi--but I can't remember where it was.
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keldon02
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"I'd love to hear more ideas on how to come up with original names."

For surnames I like old cemetaries and military lists from the Civil War and the War of 1812.


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TaShaJaRo
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rickfisher - you hit it right on the head. The race name I inadvertantly copied is Deryni and was created by Katherine Kurtz in her Deryni trilogy back in the early 1970s. I've never read them but they apparently have a large following so I don't want to duplicate, or seem to duplicate, something that popular. So, unfortunately, I feel that I'm going to have to change the name.
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Survivor
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Not unless you don't really mind changing the name. I got the Deryni reference pretty easily, but it wouldn't have sprung to mind if you hadn't mentioned that there was a well known race out there with a similar name.

Now, if the story is also "nearly identical" then you have a more fundamental problem. Then it would have sprung to mind and I would have shot you to pieces over it. But that's one reason why you have alpha readers and professional editors, after all. It would be kind of a disaster if you were to self-publish something like this, financially, legally, and notoriously.

Woa, this belongs in any future discussion of the dangers of self-publishing. Something like that would totally end your career as a writer. Nobody would ever want to touch your work again.

Anyway, it didn't happen and it's not going to happen. Go ahead and read some of the Deryni books, they're pretty good. Get a feel for what's different about your story, and go with that.


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MaryRobinette
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Ditto on picking up the Deryni reference. I wouldn't worry about the core nucleus of the story though, the elements you mention are pretty low in the awareness level of the Deryni books.
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rickfisher
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Ah! No wonder I couldn't remember what books the name came from. I've never read them.

I'm pretty sure I've got at least one of them on a shelf somewhere in the house. Got it from the SF Book Club maybe twenty-five years ago. I guess I should find it and give it a go.

Finding it will be the hard part.


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yanos
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I've read those books, and they are not cursed, more like a hunted magical race, because they possess magic. All down to genetics, although Kurtz never did explain why then there was such mysticism over the powers.

I could accept a technical explanation or a mystical one... but by using both she fell somewhere in between. Some nice story lines though


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silkenlightning
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And there's also Kate Elliott's Daryians and Katharine Kerr's Deverry...

There's too much sf/f to actually have entirely unique names, they will all have some similarities... I suppose there is a problem if there are too many similarities, ie plot AND name... but if you're brave I'd say go for it. I think the whole naming thing is really subconscious, so you probably had heard the name before using it. the thing is that if you can really make it and the plotline *yours* then it really shouldn't matter so much...

just my humble opinion

Salem


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Survivor
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I think that having a magical power associate with a certain race or "bloodline" isn't quite blurring the line between mystical and technical, myself. It isn't like Kurtz uses the word "genetics" to explain why some people have the Deryni abilities.
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TaShaJaRo
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Survivor - it's interesting that you mention whether I mind changing the name or not. I do mind very much, actually. I really liked that name and as much as I've tried, have not been able to create another I like as much. Which is why, for now, I'm still using that one unless/until I can come up with one better. I'll decide more definitively after I read her books. If I can get away with keeping the name, I'd prefer to do that. Oh, and I have no designs on self-publishing so no worries there. I'm not against self-publishing; I just don't want to do it for my first novel. I feel there is a process I need to go through and rejections are part of that process. If I skip all that and just self-publish then I feel I'm cheating myself out of part of the writer experience.

SilkenLightning - I've heard of the Deverry though I don't think I've ever read those books. I've never heard of the Kate Elliot race though I have heard of her. I'll have to check them out. I agree with you that naming is probably subconscious. I think every name I've ever heard of gets logged in my head. Then when I'm brainstorming for names, my mind just throws one out, "here's one. Don't mind that it's already in use by a super popular author."

My main concern is that I've never been published before so I really don't want to submit my first work and have it look like I simply mimicked another author. I don't need to add to it.


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RavenStarr
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I have had more than my fare share of issues involving coming up with names, but thanks to the glories of the Internet, I have gathered up some Name Generators that tend to help in pretty much every situation:

http://www.seventhsanctum.com/index-name.php

http://www.writerbuddy.com/toolbox/characters.php

http://www.cinet.net/~mhundt/findname.htm

http://members.lycos.co.uk/webwench/names.php

http://www.geocities.com/tailspropro/yugioh.html

No longer does writers-block ever involve names...


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Rocklover
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RavenStar has, I believe, given us the definitive works on names. Cool!
Thanks RS! I also like the suggestion of old cemetaries...just going there to find a name would be a riveting experience!
But why the War of 1812?

[This message has been edited by Rocklover (edited March 02, 2005).]


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Jaina
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Sometimes--work with me here, this is going to sound crazy--going to bored.com and looking under "humor" will bring up a list of humorous names. Some of them aren't terribly funny, and some of them are just odd. But you can take one here and one there, combine them, and come up with some really neat stuff.
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RFLong
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Same thing happened to me with Valdemar. The country name but not the plot. It's frustrating, but what can you do?

There's also Gemmell's Drenai.

Commiserations.


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MaryRobinette
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I've mentioned this before, but my best source of names is my Spam box.
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RavenStarr
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A method that I use to use a lot is to go through my year book and pick a name and usually just slightly change the spelling.
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EricJamesStone
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In thinking about fantasy naming, it's good to take a moment to consider the name John. It's obviously a good name, as it is found in many cultures -- except it varies. And looking at how it varies gives an interesting picture of how names can morph.

John
Johann
Giovanni
Ivan
Ian
Jan
Juan
Sean
and many more.

So don't hesitate to play with real names. Change a vowel or two or three. Add or subtract syllables. Change consonants.

For example:

Eric -> Aric -> Arec -> Alrec -> Halrec -> Halrek


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RavenStarr
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Another example:

Annie Kryst

It's a character name that I came up with once when my girlfriend's sister miss-pronounced "anti-christ", I thought it was amusing, so I worked with it.


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TaShaJaRo
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Those are all excellent suggestions. I will definately try that. I had not thought of using existing common names and modifying them. Well, that's not true. I do that sometimes but not often. I think I rely a little heavily on the naming book I have, which is a huge help but I think I've overused it. I'm going to visit those websites and see what I can come up with. I've enjoyed seeing how others writers deal with this dilemma.
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dpatridge
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i don't seem to come across this problem too much, even though i do use existing names to come up with mine.

for example: Yulanaia Rudai Vinesley.

to come up with that name i took Yunalesca, the name of a sorceress in Final Fantasy X, the words, Ruby and Diamond, and the name Viniece.

however, by putting them all together, when i ask a fan of Final Fantasy X if they realize where her first name came from, they are completely stumped. when i finally tell them that i played with "Yunalesca" they are like: "You did? I still don't see it."

The last name comes from Viniece for a different reason. when trying to come up with a last name for the brothers and their sister (who didn't exist yet) i thought that Viniece was a really cool name, which is the first name of one of the brothers, and so i took it, and altered it into something different, yet similar.

i have a character named Richard Wesley Venslowe as well, and the source of his last name is Vinesley...

another interesting name i have come up with a little more recently was Jethresh Krishtov. the last name is an actual Russian name! funny thing is, i hadn't known it when i made the name, i was just looking for a more guttural way of pronouncing Jesus Christ. fyi, the syllabic division in Jethresh is Jeth-resh... try saying that ten times fast


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Jeraliey
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How's this for embarrassing: Sometimes I accidentally mirror my own characters' names!

I thought the best name for one of my characters would be Xiaohue (the name of one of my chemistry TAs), until I realized that if you say it out loud, it sounds exactly like you're saying "Jeraliey" (another character in the same work) around a mouthful of marshmallows. It would just be too groan-worthy, for reasons that I won't get into right now.

I changed a couple letters around to make Tsaohui, which is at least a little more acceptable. I'm thinking about changing it more when I get around to writing that part. Fortunately, it only appears once or twice, because the character in question is addressed as "Ritty" most of the time, and changes her name on a regular basis.


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