Friday, February 19, 2010

Naming Characters

I'm of two minds about this. In my very early writing days, I tried to come up with completely unique names for my female protagonists, and as a result, came up with very common names like Ariel and Violet and Adrianna. Now, I find I'm always torn between the extremes. I have characters named things like Apple, Caution, Emmeline, Fiercely, and then characters with names like Kate and Sophia. What I find I'm trying to walk in the middle, with common names that aren't too common. My latest two are Daphne and Jillian.

I was usuing to look for character names long before they added their very useful tips for writers section and I've always been pleased with the results. They suggest:
If you name your character right, you will choose a name that is unique to your character and memorable to your story.
I completely agree, but my problem is with finding unique names that don't clash with the realism of the story. Some heroine who's grown up in an average family with boring parents is not going to have a name like Tatiana Starr McKnight (thank God), after all.

I'm just wondering what everyone else does for this. For my side characters, I often use Seventh Sanctum's Quick Name Generator, but for my mains, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to come up with totally unique names that are still readable.


E said...

Four of the main characters in the apocalyptic story I'm working on at the moment have names (last names, but it still counts) that are nouns. That aren't usually last names. That sounded cool. I chose them when I was approximately thirteen, and now, I can't change them. I tried. But I've known the characters for too long to just change their names and still write them the same way.

So yeah. Now I put more thought into what I name my characters, and how their names fit into the story as a whole. Because I don't want to have another character who, every once in a while, I start writing like a complete Mary-Sue just because their name leads me astray.

Athena said...

Hehe, I like the weird names, too, though, or the ones that are just slightly weird. I think Terry Pratchett is the best of the famous authors at naming his characters, and lots of them have nouns for last names ;)

Rhiannon said...

I've hit the same problem with the characters in The Story That Rainbow Brite Spawned. It's first draft was done when I was...12? 13? 14? Something in there...and because I made my cousin the main character, and had her brother, myself and Bean tag along, now the names of those characters are forever fixed as our names...which means I won't be able to publish it under my own name. Which is fine - I don't mind using a pen name.

It's especially annoying, though, because of the sequel I'm currently working on, which doesn't have Maggie as the main character, but "me" (which is why the working title is "Self-Indulgent Nonsense"). Dad said I'll have to go through and change every mention of "Rhiannon" to something else, but if I do that, then I have to change the original story, and the names work as they are. I've tried changing them. I can't conceptualize them as anything else.

So I'm keeping the names as they are. Eventually I'll publish it under a pen name, and in the mean time, I'm doing everything humanly possible to make sure I'm not writing the biggest self-insertion Mary-Sue this side of My Immortal.

As for characters in my other stories...sometimes, the names come up out of my psyche and just Kim, Ven and Trilo... Sometimes I dig through lists of baby-names to find one I Nyathera. I usually try to pick names with meanings relevant to the characters or the story...not with the same precision that Heinlein did with the names in Stranger In A Strange Land, but I try.

And yes: Pratchett is the absolute champion of picking names. I certainly never would have come up with 'Bestiality Carter', though I rather wish I did. >:)

E said...

Ohhh yes, mustn't forget poor Bestiality. Although Sally Weaver narrowly escaped a similar fate - her mother suddenly decided Chlamydia was too hard to spell.