This week: Naming CharactersEdited by: LJPC - the tortoise
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“The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to them: there ought to be as many for love.”
~ Margaret Atwood
“They do certainly give very strange, and newfangled, names to diseases."
"You know you're getting old when all the names in your black book have M. D. after them."
~ Harrison Ford
What’s In a Name?
A name can create an image or an expectation in the minds of readers. You don’t want them laughing at your villain’s name or thinking your heroine’s name sounds like an old lady. The image they have in their minds shouldn’t conflict with the type of character you’re creating.
Can you picture a hero who looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger with a name like Bilbo Baggins, Forrest Gump, or even Jack Sparrow? Those names wouldn’t work for him or a villain either.
Villain names that sound properly villainous and harsh are Count Dracula, Viktor Frankenstein, or Hannibal Lechter, Or names that sound creepy, like Ebenezer Scrooge, Viserys Targaryen, Serverus Snape, or Jigsaw.
What about Captain Hook or Gordon Gekko? It’s pretty easy to picture a bad guy with names like those. Or there are sneaky writers who throw you off by naming the villain something innocuous, like Norman Bates or Annie Wilkes.
A hero usually has a more normal sounding name -- an Average Joe name -- so that people can identify with him. Something like: Harry Potter, Phillip Marlowe, Peter Parker, or John McClane.
For heroines, Charlotte has a soft and sweet ring to it. Scarlett on the other hand, doesn’t sound sweet at all. Ripley and Katniss sound kind of tough—and they are.
Ideas for Naming
Time Period and Ethnicity.
These two things have the most effect on your naming process. If your story takes place in the present and in the type of area you’re familiar with, then you probably have a good handle on what names would suit a person living there.
However, if you’re writing something like Gothic Horror, you’ll need to research the names that were used in the 18th and 19th centuries. Modern names like Brooke, Hailey, Brett, or Colton aren’t going to work. Anything prior to the 1960s will probably have its own style of names that differ from today’s. And if you’re using different ethnicities or nationalities, make sure you get it right. Don’t name your Japanese character Mr. Kwan -- Kwan is a Chinese name.
Try Literal Names
As with names like Captain Hook and Gordon Gekko, you can choose names that have well-known meanings that reflect your character’s traits. You might name your strong tough hero Mason or Derrick or Ridge. If you have a cheerful heroine, you might try Joy or Hope or Rose.
Try Looking at Meanings
Most names have a meaning that you can find on the net. For instance, David means beloved. Your strong hero could be given a name that means strength or power, like Connell or Gabriel or Roy. Under cheerful, we have female names like Rowena, Abigail, and Hilary. If there is a wise father or grandfather who’ll help the hero, you can choose a name that means wise: Sam, Ethan, or Drew. (Frodo also means wise. It worked for Tolkien! )
Make One Up
In recent years, people have been naming their babies with the names of locations, like Savannah or Jackson. Look at a map and you may find something you like.
Or you can take a regular name and think of a new abbreviation for it. Zander comes from Alexander. The name Lyssia comes from Alicia.
Combine names into something new. Ashley + Mara = Ashara, and Ryan + Brandon = Rydon.
Try Not to Do These Things:
Try not to use names that are very famous, like Elvis or Monica. Readers will immediately imagine the singer or the “Friends” character.
Try not to use the name of a friend or family member unless you are basing the character’s personality on them. Otherwise you may find the real person’s traits sneaking into your mind and overshadowing your character’s.
Long and Confusing
Try not to use names that are long, like Alexandrina, Celestia, Cornelius, or Demetrius, or ones that are hard to pronounce, like Kryanna, Carys, Siobhan, Cian, Joaquin, or Shia.
Try not to make a regular name seem different by giving it a weird spelling, like Izobel, Krystyna, Jessikah, Mykel, Johnathan or Daffyd.
Same Beginning Letter
Try not to have your main characters’ names start with the same letter. If Phillip kidnaps Penelope and her daughter Phoebe, and Peter is trying to rescue them, I guarantee you that somewhere down the line the reader will start mixing up the names in their head. It’s confusing, and a confused reader is an unhappy reader.
Links to Help You
Even if you have no problem with your main characters’ names, you may have a number of others, like the mc’s parents, teachers, neighbors, co-workers, or friends. All those people need names, too.
To help you out, here are some links to naming sites, and also for town names, pet names, and titles.
Real Names and Meanings (International names):
Behind the Name (first names): http://www.behindthename.com/
Behind the Name (surnames): http://surnames.behindthename.com/
Popular Baby Names by Year:
Behind the Name: http://www.behindthename.com/top/
Social Security Admin: http://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/index.html
Rank of Names Across the Decades :
(What YOUR NAME would be if you were born in a different decade)
Time Magazine/US Culture: http://time.com/3856405/baby-name-popularity/
(I had a lot of fun with this one!)
Fantasy Name Generators:
Name Generator (fantasy): http://www.namegenerator.biz/place-name-generator.php
Name Generator (real or fantasy): http://www.namegenerator2.com/town-name-generator.php
Writers Den: http://www.writers-den.pantomimepony.co.uk/writers-locations.php
RPG Tools: http://www.rpgtools.us/town.aspx
Vet Street (Dogs & Cats): http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/top-10-trendiest-cat-and-dog-names
Pet Names (any species): http://www.petnames.net/popular-pet-names.html
Title for Book or Story
Book Title Generator:
Author Fun (fiction, SF, Fantasy): http://selfpubauthors.com/2013/08/09/author-fun-random-title-generators/
Will Your Title Be a Bestseller?
Lulu Title scorer: http://www.lulu.com/titlescorer/index.php
Until next time: Let the horror bleed onto the pages with every word!
Poetry! I’m happy to showcase some horror poems for your reading pleasure!
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To my delight, some writers took the time to comment on my last newsletter: "Opening Pages" Thank you!
Comments listed in the order they were received.
Taniuska writes: Excellent post. Opening are so crucial, and so difficult to get right.
”Crucial” is the perfect word, and yes, openings are very hard to get right. Every author I know rewrites them a dozen times at least. Thanks for replying to the newsletter!
Vampyr14 writes: Yep. You don't have long to get the reader hooked. Especially these days, when attention spans are getting shorter and shorter.
That is so true about attention spans. People have no patience and want instant gratification. Thanks for writing to the newsletter!
W.D.Wilcox © ¿ Φ writes: Dean Koooontz will make your palms sweat. He's the greatest.
Koontz is a professional through and through.
Joy writes: Yes, opening pages starting with the opening sentence and opening paragraphs are very important. I have stopped buying many a book I heard about, after reading the first pages on Amazon's samples.
Thanks for a great NL.
I’ve done the same thing with those Amazon sample pages. I can tell pretty quickly if the writing is the style I like. Sadly, it usually isn’t. Thanks very much for replying to the newsletter!
<<GaelicQueen>> writes: I agree hooking the reader with the first line, first paragraph is paramount to success of the book as well as a satisfactorily ending tying up loose plot bunnies.
I agree, both the beginning and ending are crucial to a book’s success. Thanks for writing to the newsletter!
9 years whew! writes: I understand "Hooking" the reader. I feel the majority of readers today are forgiving. If not, many prolific writers, like the ones above, would be out of business. That being said, if the book is a mystery, there needs to be some foreshadowing on the first page. Some action taking place that makes the reader turn the page just to see if its resolved in the next. If not then will they buy the book? If you have enough info in that first page or two (1/2 a first page) then you will probably have a buyer. I love this first line. "I woke in pain to hear my wife mutter "How do I reload this thing?" Think of the stories you could write with this first line?? Would you read a whole if this were the first line?
That is indeed a great first line! I’d read on for sure -- but I’d be disappointed if it immediately went to: “My week had started off badly, and I should have known it would get worse. Seven days ago, I was…” I’ve seen a bunch of books that have a great hook (or first chapter), but then they go back in time for the next few chapters to explain how the mc got into that position. It’s like bait and switch, and I’d put that book down.
Phoenix writes: Hooking a reader is so important. I think the blahs, though, is also a by-product of becoming a better writer yourself. You know it can be better. And much like agents, we don't want to waste our time on writing that isn't quite there yet.
Yes! Great explanation of writer blahs! Thanks for replying to the newsletter!
Steph aka Spring Bee writes: Great Newsletter on "hooks." I write a lot of romance and the same can be said - there's got to be some type of "action" to hook me. I prefer chases or running away from something. That gets me every time. I read a great hook where the heroine was trying to break the hero out of jail. (It was a historical) I couldn't put the book down!
That jail-break opening definitely has a lot of tension and mystery to it! It sounds like amazing book!
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