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So writers, how do you name characters? What's important to you?

 

I like taking the top 1000 of a given year in the country it takes place (though, say, US and Canada may be fairly interchangeable). Basically, it needs to be conceivable that a someone living in that time and place might be named that way. However, they also can't be too close to a person I know well. My dad's name is David, so I will never have a character named David - I will just imagine my dad instead of the character. At the same time, the name has to be based on the character I have in mind, who usually comes to mind fully formed. Baby name websites (especially NameVoyager) and Wikipedia might really help when I'm looking for just the right name (one of my characters is Hungarian, so I just went through a list of Hungarian athletes).

 

As well, I can't have too much repetition. There can't be too many names of the same rhythm, first letter or origin, which is what I'm currently struggling with. So far, in my ensemble cast I have Elizabeth (Beth) Lynskey (main character), Claire Holland, Monika Fodor (Hungarian) and Roman Zharkov (Russian), Cameron McDonough, Daisy Blair, Colleen Gibson, Susannah Lawrence, Max Hewitt, Julia Dusek (Czech), Joel/Spencer (not 100% sure) Ross and a professor known by the surname Bowman. All are to some extent based on real people, but their names are pretty dissimilar. Not all of these characters may appear in the finished novel, but I'm definitely worried about having just the right amount of variety. What do you focus on? Which resources do you turn to?

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When I was a kid, the characters would have the same names as and be based on family members and friends cause I had no imagination for stuff like that. Then it graduated to having names beginning with the same letter as the person theyre based on.

Now my characters are pretty much random names that I like or I think fit the character. I have a baby name book that my mom bought when she was pregnant with one of my brothers.

I also like inventing names, especially for children, cause giving weird names to kids is quite popular it seems, and theres some I quite like but certainly wouldnt inflict such weird names on my real life future children.

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When we lived in New England, I used to look in all the old graveyards. There's very distinct naming conventions in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th century there. Now we've moved away and the names are lacking a certain je ne sais quois.

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Most of my works are period works so I've looked up period names. For last names I've often gone with semi-common last names.

That's what I do. And there are some great resources online for census data. But sometimes, every now and then, I get a character who names themselves. The one I'm currently struggling with, named herself "Jeannie Lauder", which is way too close to a particular Scottish folk-song for my tastes, but she insists. (Yes, I know this sounds mental, but she's incredibly stubborn.)

edited for missing words and commas

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That's what I do. And there are some great resources online for census data. But sometimes, every now and then, I get a character who names themselves. The one I'm currently struggling with, named herself "Jeannie Lauder", which is way too close to a particular Scottish folk-song for my tastes, but she insists. (Yes, I know this sounds mental, but she's incredibly stubborn.)

I've had it happen to me too. Some characters strongly insist on certain names or characteristics.

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I've had it happen to me too. Some characters strongly insist on certain names or characteristics.

Terribly annoying, when you're trying to go one way, and they just dig in their heels, isn't it? Every time I come up against a character like that, it changes the whole story I'm trying to tell. It's exciting in some ways, but in others it's just annoying. "Jeannie Lauder" unfortunately for me, appeared as a fully fledged personality, on the sidelines, and just will not keep quiet. I've tried making her the star of it all, but no, she insists on her back-story. :( Sometimes, I think a psychologist would have a field-day with me, so it's good to know I'm not the only one. :)

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Terribly annoying, when you're trying to go one way, and they just dig in their heels, isn't it? Every time I come up against a character like that, it changes the whole story I'm trying to tell. It's exciting in some ways, but in others it's just annoying. "Jeannie Lauder" unfortunately for me, appeared as a fully fledged personality, on the sidelines, and just will not keep quiet. I've tried making her the star of it all, but no, she insists on her back-story. :( Sometimes, I think a psychologist would have a field-day with me, so it's good to know I'm not the only one. :)

I get that too. My Titanic story was mostly just going to be about that but Anita insisted on a backstory complete with women's suffrage. So the second half will probably be about the Titanic.

A friend of mine has been begging me to write one told from a stewardess' point of view and to portray poor Will Murdoch in a positive light. Unfortunately so many movies and such have jumped on the bandwagaon where he shoots passengers and then commits suicide. :? The story goes he actually fell over and either drowned or froze to death. Without a body or forensics we can't know for sure.

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I have a collection of baby name books, and a huge hardback called The Dictionary of Surnames.

Sometimes a name will just appear and insist on being used, and I have to create a character that fits. Then find a story to tell about that character.

Other times I'll know that I need a name for the love interest, or the buddy, or whatever. That's when I start making lists. I'm a name nerd, and I'm done having kids, so naming characters is a great way for me to scratch that itch. I'll make a big list of potential first names that seem to fit with what I know about the character. Once that gets narrowed down a bit, I start trying the first names with surnames until I find a combo I like.

My situation is complicated by the fact that I have a co-author who gets veto power. He mostly lets me make the naming decisions because he likes what I come up with, but there are times when something I like just doesn't work for him, and then I am disappointed. I file those names away and sometimes try to use them in another project. He is rarely allowed to name anyone more important than an incidental character because he has bad taste, and I'd end up with a book full of people with really boring names.

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Ooh, I totally get the name appearing. My latest work has a Cameron, a Colleen and a Claire. I don't like having so many C names, but they are very persuasive characters, and I've having a devil of a time finding a substitute for any one of them. They're just so perfectly suited.

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I had that happen to me, when two of my characters had a baby, I was thinking of ideas and wasnt quite sure what I was going to name the baby, but they seemed to name him themselves-Matthew James. The rest of their kids names seemed to come naturally as well.

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