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Naming characters
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Lauren



Joined: 07 Mar 2004
Posts: 1582
Location: Massachusetts
Naming characters  Reply with quote  

So, how exactly do you kids come up with names for your characters? This is sort of a two-parter, for mainstream names and fantasy names

I sometimes have a baby name book handy (right now it's hidden because the mother-in-law got all excited). I feel like naming characters sort of is like naming a child - you want your cast to have names that fit them, or as in the case of M.F. from Coyote Blue, a reason that the name is less-than-desirable (whether mom and dad named him/her inappropriately or the character at least thinks they did). Other times I just hear a name I like and it ends up in a story. I have a list of those, and when a name invokes an image, resonates with a character, there it is.

Then again, if the name of the lead male is something like "Blake Dakota", I'll be looking up from the book description to see if I'm in the romance section (or maybe men's adventure).

Once you've got a first name, you probably need a last name, which means you also want the names to "flow" with one another, and again I'm thinking of new parents trying out different combinations of names and nicknames. I can debate with myself for days over whether or not a name sounds right. That's where I stick in a placeholder so I can at least get on with the story while pondering...

Then, for non-contemporary, most likely not-on-Earth settings, how do you create fantasy names? I've read some authors who are great at creating unusual names, and others whose strung-together syllables sound like the noise you make when clearing your throat (no offense to HP Lovecraft, who says that's pretty much how you pronounce Cthulhu). I like to think my strung-together syllables are better than that, but I thought it might be an interesting question.

Thoughts?
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Post Wed Sep 01, 2004 7:28 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website AIM Address ICQ Number
earthshoes



Joined: 17 Jun 2004
Posts: 213
Location: SW Missouri
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They name themselves most of the time. However, for the newest project, I chose a name that belonged to a friend from high school. I've always wanted to see it on paper.
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Post Wed Sep 01, 2004 8:55 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail AIM Address Yahoo Messenger
Ferrit Leggings



Joined: 29 Mar 2004
Posts: 2658
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I look for names and meanings in baby name websites online or in old dictionaries. I like to have the names of my characters fit with their discriptions or have their names fit for some, i shudder to say, symbolism.
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Post Wed Sep 01, 2004 10:06 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
chris
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Joined: 02 Mar 2004
Posts: 3833
Location: People Republic of Northern California
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They have to have the right name for what I need them to do. Sometimes both the full name and the diminutive have to work, as well as the first and last name. I like people to feel intimate, friendly, toward my characters, so I'll seldom refer to them by their last names unless they are a bad guy or a cop.

I use baby-name books, baby-naming websites, and phonebooks for last names. (There are now ethnic baby name sites too, so if you have a Greek or Italian character you can find an authentic name.)


As for fantasy names, I think the easier it is for the eye to recognize and the mind to pronounce, the better. Celtic spellings, accent marks, or weird combinations of consonants will actually stop me from reading a book. After all, if it's a main character, then I'm going to have to spend a whole book skipping over their name. Also, unconventional spellings of normal things, just to be unconventional, well, I find it irritating, but that may just be me. (Vampyre, faerie, phuque)Think of memorable imagery and nomenclature: Freman, the spice, Arrakis, Sand Worms, even Beni Jessarett -- pretty simple pronounciations -- And I still remember the name Rachaverak, the liason Overlord from Childhood's End, and I haven't read that book in over thirty years. Lovecraft's Old Ones, his ancient places -- well, let's face it, they are hard to discuss with others, aren't they? You sort of open yourself up to be corrected by a linguistic ubernerd.

It's also a good idea not to have main characters whose names start with the same letter, or whose names look a lot alike. I screwed up on that account in Fluke, naming characters Clay and Claire who had a lot of scenes together. While this didn't tank the book, it probably disturbed the flow of some scenes because people had to look back to see who did what. There was also a Cliff in the book. For a relatively short book, that's too damn many short CL characters.

Whether you want to indulge Ian Fleming-like names, well, that's your call. While Pussy Galore, Honeychile Rider, and Agent Strangeways are certainly memorable, and it's kind of fun naming characters in that way (Austin Powers style), it's going to be tough to get past the name for most readers.

Have I told you about naming Adeline Eats, one of the Crow Indian characters from Coyote Blue? Well, Eats is certainly a credible name for a Crow. Her given name, or more likely her great grandfather's name, might have been, Eats the Liver (Buffalo), so the BIA would have shortened it to EATS and made it a surname for the whole family. (I knew a guy named Harold Stops, but his full name was Stops at Pretty Places.) Anyway, I was in the general store one day in Crow Agency, Montana, and the employee phone list for the store employees was taped to the cigarette rack above the phone. One of the names on it was Adeline Bad Beaver. I'm not kidding.

Could I? Should I? In the end, I thought the larger audience would think that I was making fun of Indian people's names, and any protest that "no, that's really the truth" doesn't fly in those instances, so my general store lady became Adeline Eats. One can't help but wonder if a character named Bad Beaver might not have had a different attitude toward life?


Last edited by chris on Thu Sep 02, 2004 2:01 pm; edited 1 time in total

Post Thu Sep 02, 2004 2:42 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Fairydust



Joined: 23 Aug 2004
Posts: 28
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Chris, what's phuque? I go to baby names.com all the time. I have more trouble coming up with last names for the characters. I have even tried to make up towns name by spelling my name backwards. Ahsatan is not a good name for town.
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Post Thu Sep 02, 2004 5:00 am   View user's profile Send private message
earthshoes



Joined: 17 Jun 2004
Posts: 213
Location: SW Missouri
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At my husband's suggestion, I rearranged the letters of the very real town I'm setting my story in--Galena--to Angela.

I think I'll do that kind of thing from now on when it comes to towns.
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Post Thu Sep 02, 2004 5:04 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail AIM Address Yahoo Messenger
Lara-
Guest




Names  Reply with quote  

I'm writing a book right now and the main lady's name kept changing with every chapter. I figured eventually, as I got to know her, a name would stick. Yesterday, a woman called the bookstore and I took her name for the order and it was perfect. I asked her to spell it and immediately hijacked it for my own nefarious purposes. The character's last name is based on the last name of another customer who is an avid reader and I figured it would be good luck to use it, plus combined they sound totally cool.

Post Thu Sep 02, 2004 10:51 am   
chris
Site Admin


Joined: 02 Mar 2004
Posts: 3833
Location: People Republic of Northern California
 Reply with quote  

Fairydust wrote:
Chris, what's phuque? I go to baby names.com all the time. I have more trouble coming up with last names for the characters. I have even tried to make up towns name by spelling my name backwards. Ahsatan is not a good name for town.



PH =F
U = U
QUE = CK

Smile

Post Thu Sep 02, 2004 12:34 pm   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Katy O



Joined: 29 Mar 2004
Posts: 5127
Location: DFW Metroplex - TX
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Real name here: Bich. It is Vietnamese. I used to know a guy (Long Ngyuen) whose sister was named Bich. I bet she started going by her middle name.

Post Thu Sep 02, 2004 12:40 pm   View user's profile Send private message AIM Address
Lib



Joined: 16 Apr 2004
Posts: 3423
Real Name (not mine)!  Reply with quote  

Cleotis Faggat
Really!
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Post Thu Sep 02, 2004 12:44 pm   View user's profile Send private message
Lisa M



Joined: 08 Jul 2004
Posts: 1844
Location: Rhode Island
Names  Reply with quote  

I sometimes get them from the obituaries. I find my characters tend to name themselves, although I sometimes get stuck on a letter. Recently I ended up withfour characters whose names started in 'A' -- but was able to use that to be more creative about a couple of the characters who then renamed themselves. Now if they would only help me on the plot.

Post Thu Sep 02, 2004 1:55 pm   View user's profile Send private message
Boota



Joined: 09 Apr 2004
Posts: 830
Location: Kokomo, Indiana
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I had a blast naming characters in my novel. The main character, Lenny Kapowski, just jumped out at me. Lenny fit the character as first name. (I also liked it from Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men) I was watching an old Batman tv show and the screen exploded with a "KAPOW!" right as I was looking up from my writing notes. I added the "ski" and made him Polish just so I could have him tell some great self-deprecating Polish jokes, just like all my Polish friends do.

Lenny's best friend, Norm Grubnik: I was working midnights in a factory and on my lunch break I warmed up a chicken sandwich from Burger King. The logo design on the bag wrapped around the corner, so all I saw was Burg Kin. I reversed the letters and put them together.

The Rambling Hills Resident Council members, who try to run Lenny out of their neighborhood, were named Monroe Purdum, Webster Courtland, Jasper Morrison, and Harrison Armstrong. Those are all intersections near my house.

I named other characters just for traits they had. Susie Ten-Inch, Truck, Pinky, and Betty Crash from the lesbian punk rock band, Rugmuncher. Susie wore a neon pink strap-on dildo on stage. Pinky had a pink mohawk, Betty Crash was a drummer, and Truck was giant gorilla-like woman. Creepy Pete was, well... creepy. Gonorrhea Randy had gonorrhea. See a pattern? LOL.

In the novel I'm working on now one of the main characters is retarded and I really wrestled with his name in the planning stages. I wanted to make sure that it was something that couldn't be cutesied up by adding a y or an ie. I went with Ethan. That name sort of has to stand as it is.
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Post Thu Sep 02, 2004 9:19 pm   View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
palmer



Joined: 30 Mar 2004
Posts: 1324
 Reply with quote  

chris wrote:


PH =F
U = U
QUE = CK

Smile


There's a German last name, Fux. He's a famous German music theorist we had to study when I did my music degree. We all walked around calling him "Fooks" until some Latvian professor said, "Fooks? Whose is Fooks?" and set us straight on the pronunciation.

Post Sun Sep 05, 2004 9:09 pm   View user's profile Send private message
mister



Joined: 05 Jul 2004
Posts: 301
Location: brooklyn
 Reply with quote  

sioux city, where i grew up, has a somewhat sizeable vietnamese population. Enter high school P.E. with the Ho family. Sisters Phuc and Dat Tan. aaah. yep. Names.

Knew a guy named Bert Kotzic. (something like that) I believe he was polish. Anyway, in his region, kotzic means hunting knife. Cool! In an adjacent dialect, kotzic means vomit.

Uh-huh.
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Post Mon Sep 06, 2004 12:09 am   View user's profile Send private message AIM Address
Hillary



Joined: 13 Apr 2004
Posts: 1767
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I like obscure names, but unfortunately, they get confusing fairly quickly, so I try to keep it to one or two per storyline. I think the weirdest name I have in the manuscript I just handed over to the Lauren-meister was Athea - after a friend's daughter, but the rest are John and Mac and Jason, etc.

I don't like books where I can't pronounce people's names. A few, sure, but every other one? Drives me nuts.


Last edited by Hillary on Sun Dec 26, 2004 7:46 pm; edited 1 time in total

Post Tue Sep 07, 2004 10:24 am   View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
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