Thursday, January 19, 2012

Choosing Names for Your Characters

So, after reading Debra's comment yesterday about the name "Grace" being too common, I went into a bit of panic mode since that is the name of my heroine in my work in progress.

I loved the name for this particular character, but if you will remember I talked about how I was torn between the names Grace and Claire, so I spent this morning taking Grace out and putting in Claire. I also changed the name of my hero because he had a "C" name as well and if the heroine was Claire, it didn't really fit with the hero's name anymore.

But then, I had to change a bad guy's name because "Roy" just didn't seem to go with the vision of him I had in my mind after seeing him interacting with Claire and not Grace.

You know what was funny? After I'd changed everybody's name, it was like I was writing a whole new book. The hero seemed a little darker, the heroine a little sassier, the bad guy a little more sympathetic. It was amazing!

Unfortunately, with all the first name changes, I also had to do some last name changes as well. Last names are always hard for me. I have tried the phone book thing, the neighborhood list thing, genealogy sources, you name it. I dread choosing last names. But last night, I found this website who offers a free list of great last names. (Click here if you want to see it.) I think I will love this website for the rest of my writing career.

So, now I have new first names, great last names, and I'm ready to finish this baby up.

How do you choose names for your characters?

14 comments:

Rebecca Belliston said...

I probably don't research name meanings like I should. Half the time I open the newspaper. I really try to pay attention to the sound--kind of like you. How main characters names sound together is important, I think. It's funny how many names you ended up changing because of it.

Janice Sperry said...

My current WIP is a steampunk so I looked up common Victorian era names. So far I've only named the main character - Vivian and a boy who may or may not be important - William.

Melanie Goldmund said...

To research character names, I go on to baby name sites, for instance, or try to see what names were popular around the time that character would have been born. Sometimes while searching for a surname, I'll find a TV show and look up the cast and crew on imdb, then scan the list of crewmembers to see what last names they have.

I've written a few fanfics that were set in London, and I wanted to find names for black characters that reflected their heritage. I searched online for African newspapers and read articles to see what names were mentioned there.

I also found a list of surnames that were represented in Lancashire. I think it was a genealogical site. Sometimes I'll go there if I want something a little bit less common than Smith or Jones. I found the wonderful name Fazakerley there, for instance. Don't you just love how it rolls off your tongue? Fazakerley.

And for those times when I was writing fanfic set in the Middle Ages, I consulted a website that had listed all the names that had been found on documents from about 1200, in order of their popularity. Fascinating.

Gina said...

I'm always afraid that somebody I know will be like, "Hey, she named a character after me!!!" and then I will either look like a weird stalker person or completely un-creative.

So... yeah. Baby name sites help a lot. Census data, too. Or, to get really crazy, I translate a key character trait into other languages and find something that sounds cool/pretty.

Rebecca H. Jamison said...

Honestly, I didn't pay much attention to names until I was in the final editing process for my novel and realized I had three female characters with names starting in "Li"--yeah, so it's important to pay attention. I also had two guys named Dave. Don't you love search and replace?

Debra Erfert said...

Weird, huh, Julie, how names can change perceptions? I may need to change Micah's name too since Mackenzie's nickname of Mac sounds so similar to Micah, it can get confusing, but I don't know if the query letter would get a refusal solely on that count considering it can be changed if requested. I think Roy would be a great name for a bad guy, personally.

I love baby naming sites, and there are many, but most of the times I hear a name and I cling to it like Saran Wrap. Sometimes I read a name in a newspaper or it comes to me the instant before I write it down. I don't have any usual way of coming up with a name--they just happen.

My WIP is called BUCKET LIST OF HOPE. I know it wouldn't sound the same if it was called BUCKET LIST OF WANDA, now would it? The main character's name is Hope, so the title has a double meaning. If I was told Hope has been used too many times, I'd so totally be out of luck!

Jon Spell said...

I have to confess, the whole coming up with names thing is at once both interesting, and at the same time, so easy to get bogged down in.

What's in a name, indeed!

Jon "Magic" Spell

Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Rebecca, sometimes I watch the end of movie credits for name ideas, too! haha

Janice, those names definitely sound like they'd go with a steampunk. :)

Melanie, I don't actually research meanings, but maybe I should! Sounds like you could almost write a book on cool surnames.

Gina, I like the idea of going backwards by picking out a trait and picking the name from that!

Rebecca, I LOVE search and replace. Could you imagine having to get the white-out for your typewriter to change it all? (If you're old enough to remember typewriters!)

I don't know, Wanda doesn't sound too bad, haha! It is amazing how perceptions change with names.

Jon, we should totally figure out nicknames for ourselves. Julie "Coulter" Bellon seems so boring. Jon "Magic" Spell probably really fits. ;)

Angie said...

I'll use a baby name book, or website. Especially if I want a specific nationality or meaning for a name. Usually, my main characters tend to name themselves.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I don't care what people think about my names. I pick ones that fit the character. If they are too common...I don't care.

Charlie Moore said...

I often wonder how a name fits a character. Doesn't Tom Smith fit everybody (male)? Julie, in the book I have coming out in July (or early August) two of the lead characters I named George and Claire. In a manuscript currently being considered the leads are Hyrum and Margo. I tend to lean on family names because I want to show tribute to them.

Kurt Kammeyer said...

Since my books are based around events on the Planet Edom, I had to find a way to depict the various cultures there. I use Norse names (Gudrid, Torfi, Bjornolf), Welsh names (Islwyn, Aled, Eurig), Chinese and Mongol names (Quitashen, Shulin, Odgerel) and Hindu names (Kalpana, Vedanshi). The Seers have Hebrew names (Haganiel, Hanoch, Abdiel). It's a lot easier to use real cultures as my framework than to make them up from scratch.

Sarah Pearson said...

Sometimes names just happen. I have a character who is called Carole-Ann. I don't particularly like this name (sorry anyone called that), and it's a pain to keep typing out, but that's the name she came with.

Mostly though, I change names many times between the beginning and the end :-)

Dawn M. Hamsher said...

In my job, I see the names of over 2,000 employees. When I come across an interesting first or last name, I jot it down in a tablet. I often switch up names (last names can make cool first names). I've come across some awesome names that will keep me busy for years.