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December 30, 2012


Replies: 42

How to Name a Character?

Alkylogic Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
A friend and I recently wrote a play for our school's drama club and, throughout the entire process, one of our advisers would constantly harp on me for not including more symbolism with the character's names. He claimed that a good character's name intentionally said something about them.

In the end, the character's names ended up being Polly Prosper, Sam Rodgers, Charlotte Letter, Tom Smith, Dick Jones, and Sable Blue. Why? Because, with the exception of Miss Letter (and I will always curse that man for his obsession with symbolism), I quite simply liked those names.

Sometimes, I will choose a name and then try to create a character who gives off the same sort of vibe. Lacy Devereaux, for example, was a very feminine hostess who wanted nothing more to find a steady beau, even though men often took advantage of her naive and sweet demeanor.

How do you name a character? Do you go the symbolism route, pick just a name you like, or go about it in some other way entirely?

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Devious Comments

Mouselemur Featured By Owner Jan 8, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
When I was a whole lot younger, I found this book of my parents, how to name a baby. When I was in search for a name for a character, I would search the contents for the meaning of a name, thinking I could mold the character to it's name.
It doesn't really work that way.
These days, I tend to create the personality first, than go in search of a name. It has to fit, give off a vibe that it's right. Friendly girl, a friendly sounding name; saucy woman, saucy name; a tough guy, a tough name.
That's not exactly symbolism, because you're still the one choosing them. What you think fits with this exact character.
waiting-for-wings Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
personally i just pick names that i like. Sometimes i go out of my way to make sure it fits with the character or has symbolism but other times its just because i take a fancy to the name :)
TristanCody Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2013  Student Writer
Your adviser advised wrong. Simple as that.

Character names do not need to be names that have symbolism. Hell, they don't even need to be great names. If the writer likes them, use them.
Fallingstarz5 Featured By Owner Jan 7, 2013  Student General Artist
I dream it up, usually. I take names I love, and blend sounds together. Makes a beautiful name that makes people think, "That's creative and fits her personality!"

For example, I took "Cici" and "Belle" and made "Cielle" which sounds elegant.
Andropunk Featured By Owner Jan 6, 2013  Student Interface Designer
I mostly write fantasy, and so name generators can be a life saver. Normally I try to stick with names to fit the race and personality. For example, if I were to have an orc warrior, who had more brawn than brain, I'd name him something rough and tough sounding, like Kurtek, Krunk, Glurbash, etc. But if I had a human aristocrat with a knack for getting himself into bad situations, and talking himself out, I'd name him something more flowing and fancy sounding, like Cacius Valius. As far as symbolism goes, I personally try to stay away from it, just because I don't find it realistic. My name, for example, means Pearl and Fire, though nothing I've done, or ever plan on doing relates to that in the least. I've only used symbolism a handful of times, and I never really stick to those characters, because the name could sound cheesy, or it just doesn't fit that character. I personally tend to stick more to the sound of the name, not the meaning.
Rayaroja Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2013  Student Traditional Artist
I go for symbolism and use the names of stars which are mostly in latin and arabic, others I try to find names that go with their appearance or because they are clever (one of my characters can manipulate gravity so I call him "Newton")

I recently discovered how useful a name generator can be.
Peribyss Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
I often use symbolism when naming my characters. I'll often name them after someone or something. My username, which is also the name of one of my protagonists, is a combination of two Greek words: "peripateo" which means to walk, and "abyss-" which is the root form of "abussos."
AircatSkylion Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I find that names are quite easy as they come as part of the character. I'm terrible at surnames, though, so online lists really help me with those.
SilverTidalWave Featured By Owner Jan 4, 2013  Student Writer
I usually try to find a name that suits that character's personality or something that suits they way she looks, acts, where she lives, what age it's set, etc. When I'm naming a character I usually spend a lot of time on baby name sites. ^^
neomerlin Featured By Owner Jan 3, 2013  Student Writer
Carl's guide to naming characters:
1. Have you decided on a name? Yes: Well done. No: Go to step 2.
2: Go to a babynames website the sorts names by gender and first letter.
3: Filter by the gender of your character (unless you specifically want the opposite gender name. See: Scrubs)
4: Pick a letter that you happen to think sounds good, today.
5: Pick a name you like. Is that name likely to be given to your character, given culture, setting etc? Yes: Go to step 7. No: Go to step 6.
6: Does that matter? Yes: Go to step 5. No: Go to step 7.
7: Congratulations, you have named your character. Repeat for other characters or move on to actual writing.
Kinola14 Featured By Owner Jan 2, 2013
There are several name-related websites. I recommend thinkbabynames (where they not only show you the origin and variants of a name, but also a line graph showing how popular the name was) and Behind the Name.
Lytrigian Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Your adviser is an idiot, and I wouldn't trust a single thing he said after this.
Sachi-pon Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
i don't really care that much about symbolic names. i just go with whatever name "feels right" to me. i know that sounds vague but that's really how it works with me. if i think of a name and it just doesn't "feel right" that that's the character's name, i don't use it.
vglory Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013
The characters should be named the sort of things their parents would have named them in that time and place. Anything else is a cheap gimmick.
saintartaud Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Professional General Artist
Your adviser is an idiot.  I mean, this is fiction/drama, so you can name the characters whatever you damn well please, but there is hardly any rule that says the name must be symbolic.  It can be.  Or it can't.  It's really your choice. 

Personally, I like choosing names for major characters with some meaning, but the sound of the name and context are an issue as well.
YTcyberpunk Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
I go for whatever name sounds right. I don't like to get symbolic with names, because it can make the story less believable. I mean, did Remus Lupin's parents look into a crystal ball and see he'd get bit by a werewolf, before choosing his name? It's silly. If the name says anything about a character, it should say something about his *parents*, or whoever it was that named him.
Alkylogic Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Maybe they just really wanted a werewolf for a son X) That name is kinda asking for it.
YTcyberpunk Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Yeah. At least Sirius Black is believable, if a stretch, because he did choose which animal to turn into when he became an animagus.
merrak Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2012  Hobbyist
I just name mine after streets in Tulsa, OK.

>> He claimed that a good character's name intentionally said something about them.

People also used to claim "new math" was a good idea, and "new coke" tasted good.

I like "Charlotte Letter". Your intuition sounds better than your advisor's on this one.
TheNAUGHTicalLife Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2012  Professional Writer
Doesn't always have to be the case.
UltimaMage578 Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2012
I just name them. However, I try to make it fit with what culture they are in.

Usually if you go the symbolism route, everything else is usually going through symbolism.

I like Charlotte Letter though. It is a nice name, although it does make me giggle.
Alkylogic Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I've grown fond of it. It wasn't even intended to be an actual idea for a name. I was fed up and pulled the cheesiest thing I could think of our of my brain. And they liked it XD
Mr-Timeshadow Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2012
Well, that's my beef with some English teachers: they are too lazy. They force us to read books for school in which the symbolism clonks us over the head with a claw hammer. We rarely get books in which the symbolism is less overt, or even so subtle that it takes a few reads to spot it.
I'd say there's no firm rule about naming. For example, in my story:
Bread and Circuits      "...and it's still a beautiful, cloudless day here in Van Mark Stadium. Welcome back to the N.A.L. quarterfinal eliminations: men's division. Still with me is color commentator Jim Lyndorski. Hello again, Jim!"       "Hello, Bob McCallico."       "Fine, thanks. You home viewers, don't worry: they're still cleaning up after Wesley Rolfe's crowd-pleasing appearance."       "That they are, Bob, but with Wesley's high expenses--"       "Not to mention that Humane Society lawsuit, Jim!"       "-- and recent legal entanglements, he might go broke before the semifinal and final rounds."       "Too true, Jim, too true. But with men like Harold Damwither and Billy O'Selznick competing, money's the least of his worries."       "Billy comes next in rotation, Bob, so we'll soon see if Wesley Rol

I didn't use any symbolism. I went for cadence and aimed to sound playful -- even silly.
In other stories, though, I used baby name books to help me make the character's name ethnically consistent (if they're French-Canadian, I aim for a name with some sort of French derivation, not Norse) and conveying a meaning -- either underlining the obvious trait, or undercutting it. In other words, a mighty character's name could mean, "Humble".
Mever let these narrow-minded people bully you into betraying your instincts. Trust yourself!
ChibiLovett Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I sometimes try to make it mean something, but for the most part I just pick a name I like that seems to fit. Obviously it has to fit the time period and feel of the story in general and certain characteristics no matter what, but for the most part I just name them whatever I feel like.
raspil Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2012   Writer
i just name them.
wolfos96 Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Symbolic names feel to fake to me. I like my stories to have a more realistic vibe, so I always give my characters casual names, like Al and Roger and whatnot. Those generic names feel more real to me.
Alkylogic Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I like generic names. I feel like it allows the reader to insert himself into the character a little more than usual or at least see through the character's eyes.
ElleRochelle Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012   Writer
I usually think of my setting first. My current book is in a sort of medieval era so I wouldn't choose a modern name like Laura or Jennifer. Usually I make up a completely original name, like Elaerya. :)I just run variations of names and sounds through my head until I find something I like and then I work on the spelling. I like unusual spellings (don't ask why). For my MC's name, I had tons of variations: Alaria, Elaria, Elayrea, etc. I decided that Elaerya looked more regal and fitting. :D I decided she needed two middle names so I had to think of those as well. Her name ended up coming down to Elaerya Cecily Rochelle. Cecily ends up being a major point in the story and my middle name is Rochelle and I always add a little piece of me to my characters. ;)

I just play around until I find something I like. I have an excel document with several names I have thought of and/or used in various books, and I have them marked as masculine or feminine, if they were used and where, modern or classical, and then I have different variations of spellings of each :D It helps to see it typed out instead of just in my head :D
Alkylogic Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
That's a really good idea, the excel spread sheet. I may have to try something like that.
LadyAnder Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Where on earth did he get an idea like that? Very rarely do I name characters with symbolism in mind. If I did, it would take me forever to name characters. I just pick out an appropriate name.
Alkylogic Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I've spent hours digging through various baby name sites, trying to find a name that matched up decently with the character. Its irritatingly time consuming >.<
carusmm Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Sly Peekaboo
Fluffy Bunnings
T. Rex Soupbowl
Bethany-sensei Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012
I've always believed that only characters in an allegory need to have symbolic names. And yes, those who say the names need to reflect the setting are quite correct.

More often than not, I find my characters coming pre-packaged (so to speak) with part if not all of their names as I work through the design process. But that probably makes me sound like a crazy person. ^^;
PinkyMcCoversong Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Professional Writer
I think your professor is full of crap, honestly.  Trying too hard to insert symbolism into your work SHOWS.  And not in a good way.

So, like others have said -- we don't get to pick our own names.  So think of what the characters' parents would have given them for names.  And think about where/when the story is taking place.  The rest is mostly bs.
neurotype Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
I think about how much their parents hated them.

Because since when do people get names that even vaguely predict their personalities?
Well, Charles Dickens got away with it. But he came up with 'Herbert Pocket' so he can do whatever he wants.
DJ0Hybrid Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Hobbyist Writer
Depends on the setting. If you need to be serious, then (usually) no. If a little goofiness is fine, then having a symbolic name can actually help cut down on describing the character.
Alkylogic Featured By Owner Jan 1, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
That's good advice. Thank you
Lovely-Words Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
a good character's name intentionally said something about them

No, it should fit the setting. If anything it would say more about the parents than the character.
Alkylogic Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
That's what I've always thought, as well. A parent names his or her child before knowing about the child's personality, so it would be unlikely that the child would grow up to accurately represent the name.
DorianHarper Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012  Professional Writer
It depends entirely. Usually I go with names that I personally like and make a list of different variations of that name (first and surname) until I find one that just sounds "right". There are times that there is symbolism behind some of my characters' names, but more often than not, I don't think about that when naming characters and just go with what sounds good for them.

Most of my work, however, is historical fiction, so I DO need to be cautious of time and place when picking names. I usually go to some resources on the time with lists of popular/common first/surnames to help if I find I get stuck there.
Rovanna Featured By Owner Dec 30, 2012   Digital Artist
a good character's name intentionally said something about them

I just pick something which I think suits them. (And is from the right country/time period).
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