View Full Version : The Name Game
August 30th, 2002, 05:35 PM
This is really a question for fantasy and sci-fi writers, although any advice would be welcome.
I'll be the first to admit that my writing is riddled with shortcomings. However, of all those the one I find most aggravating is my inability to come up with decent character names. Some writers (and I wouldn't even really profess to be one), especially Tolkien, seem to be able to effortlessly produce reams of decent names. Others by contrast prove relativly uninspired, consider for instance Steven Eriksons' characters: 'Truth,' 'Fiddler,' and so forth; the irritating thing is that Erikson makes them work.
A related point I guess is to ask: What's in a name? Does the name make the character, or can a well depicted character overcome a poor name choice? To elucidate this latter point, would a reader accept a mighty warrior called 'Meek.' How does everyone else generate names?
August 30th, 2002, 05:50 PM
Sometimes I use Celtic, Nordic or old Anglo Saxon names, matching the meaning to the character's personality.
Or, like in "The Hat Man" a book I am sending off to the publishers at the moment, I have used modern names. Yes it is a fantasy work, but what hard and fast rule says you have to use "Fantasy names"?
So I have characters called Jack, Elena, and of course Albert!
I also make up names, if I like the sound of a name or it looks good or seems to suit the character...... Mulicifer and Tellssa....
I once created a noblity that had the prefix De or Del. So It was James Del Mark, Rupert Del Ewart and De Canver.
But if you were born on the wrong side of the blanket you were Malcolm Dlreach. the "E" was dropped.
This book also used "English names" for one country "Welsh" names for another, and made up names for a third.... To give it a wider scope. The book itself crashed and burned against the wall of publishers... *g*
I find it is not the name, but the character you create round that name that catches the reader.
Albert, is not the name you would give to the greatest and most powerful High Mage there has ever been is it? But is does suit a man who is "as loony as a tune" and prone to turn into...... something small and furry..... :rolleyes:
August 30th, 2002, 08:34 PM
I share your problems with name generation.
I think that there is a lot in a name. I once heard that a person's name is to him or her the single most significant word in that person's vocabulary. That's why it's so important to remember a person's name when you want to make a first impression.
I have a friend who started dating a girl (pre-Seinfeld era) and forgot her name. Needless to say the relationship didn't last. Of course, that earned him the nickname "Smoothie." (As a side note to this day whenever I hear the word "Mulva" I laugh so hard it hurts.)
When naming a character I think that there are a number of things to keep in mind. First of all you want the reader to remember the name. And that's where contrast can help, such as the warrior named "Meek."
Also you don't want the reader to stumble over the name - a problem in a lot of fantasy and SF stories. Naturally an alien wouldn't speak english, so why would he have an english name? Well, he probably wouldn't, but the story is in english (or some other language that actually exists) so you're faced with some translation. I try to think what kind of name would this character pick for himself?
As Holbrook eluded to, there is a lot to be said for consistency of names too. In medieval-type settings people from a specific culture should have similar names. If you're so inclined you can establish a mythology for the culture and draw common names from that. In futuristic settings (or near future anyway) I tend to try and combine fairly common names, or just spell a common name differently.
A great name does not a great character make. However, a poorly chosen name can create some obstacles that your story doesn't otherwise need.
Fortunately, in the age of computers, we can always use the "find and replace" tool on the word processor to instantly change a character's name when the right name comes along.
August 30th, 2002, 11:53 PM
There are a few previous threads you should check on the same topic. I have compiled a list of normal names, categorised by gender, as well as made up ones.
I personally think that a name is very important, if not as important as the delivery. However, I believe a brilliant name can set a character apart from the mundane. e.g. Rand Al'Thor from WOT or Aragorn from LOTR.
August 31st, 2002, 02:54 AM
Back when I used to write every day, I kept a running list of names I liked and referred back to it.
Look at the meaning of the name. Refer to friends and family who embody characteristics of the fictional character you're creating. Just tweak the name a bit :)
And whatever you do... don't name your child just plain "Nellie". She will be continually annoyed by people asking what it's short for, and then those who insist that it *is* a nickname... first day of classes, this happened all the time... *shudder*
August 31st, 2002, 03:12 AM
Indeed names are a fickle thing for a writer. I know they're of paramount importance in a "reader's" retrospect and of commercial importance initially.
The point I'm driving at is, one of my most beloved authors Stephen R. Donaldson has come up with some names that were intitally hard for me to deal with. the character Saltheart Foamfollower was, for me, terrible as I read "Lord Foul's Bane". Yet he became very dear to me, so when Covenant encountered Saltheart Foamfollwer as a,
WARNING REMOTE CHANCE OF A SPOILER ALERT
shade in Andelain I was brought to trears by this character whose name I inititially disliked.
Can every writer walk that fine line of genius that Donaldson did with that name? Certainly not me. But I think the lesson is......If you're a brillaint story teller names won't get in your way. Yet also remember Donaldson devotes much time to creating his names. Where does that leave us writers ? Still struggling I would expect.
August 31st, 2002, 01:35 PM
Try not to create unpronouncable names - they always stop me getting into the story.
There are some places on the net that do fantasy names - try here:
August 31st, 2002, 05:11 PM
Names in fantasy ARE important; they can help towards giving the story an added sense of reality. Tolkien was brilliant at creating names because he was a philologist by occupation, and created his names using actual linguistic principles. I use a lot of celtic (Welsh, Irish, Cornish, Scottish), as well as some Norse and Finnish names. Often I will spell names phonetically, or make alterations to make them sound the way I prefer them. I have some strong personal preferences in naming--I don't like anything that sounds 'makey-uppey' or as if it's from a bad SF movie--ie just about anything starting with the letter 'Z' Zoth, Zargon, Zedd etc, or twee, girly names like Shanna, Sharra, Sharia etc.
August 31st, 2002, 05:14 PM
Oh yeh, another pet peeve is finding so-called Celtic novels where the main characters have non-ancient 'celtic' names like Liam, Sean, Ellen, Beth, Caitlin, Shannon, Erin, Maire, etc! Or when people are writing about 'celts' and have characters with a mix of Irish and Welsh names ie Branwyn daughter of Eochaidh.
August 31st, 2002, 09:22 PM
My 2 cents on names...
Names should be particular to the region. People from one place should have names that sound one way... those from other regions should have different sounding names. Especially if there is a language barrier.
Easy way to get names... look no further than the real world. Try going through soccer teams(by country) and make names with the same essential sounds.
In my own works I use a lot of spanish, english, and portugese sounding names.
On cool names...
I like to give them a first and last name that sound well in conjunction. The name should also somehow "fit" the character. i.e. saying the name should evoke an image of the character.
Here's a nice brazilain sounding example...
P.S. Remember... you TOO can have fun with names!!!:)
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