Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Names - Crafting Characters #AtoZChallenge

He's too interesting to have a name.

     You'll find hundreds (if not thousands) of articles and tips on naming your characters.  Methods range from using the phone book and obituaries to searching family trees and historical texts. The internet has brought us random generators, some of which I've linked at the end of this post.

     Naming your characters can be as intimate a process as naming your offspring.  What you choose to call your character may reflect different things: personality, lineage/origin, occupation.  A nickname can also be used to convey physical characteristics (Twiggy, Lefty, Rabbit), demeanor (Bull, Twitchy), or current/past occupation (Sarge, Gopher, Hack). 

     There are some basic "rules", but I only stick to one of them:  make sure that the names fit the time period.  I see everything else as fair game. If I'm writing a flash and I want the reader to pay more attention to the storyline than the character, I may choose a bland name like "Joe".  A name/nickname may or may not reflect the character; for example, "Thorny" (shortened from Thornton) is not prickly by nature.  Among my stacks of notebooks is one which is used to note names which I like, culled from real life, the police log, you name it.  I'll mix and match first and last names until I come up with something that "clicks".  

     On rare occasions, a character will present himself to me with his name already chosen.  I have no idea how that happens, but I always stick with it.  

     We also have to consider settings and locations.  One writing source advised me to "use realistic place names"That entails checking thoroughly to make sure that your fictional town/school/business name is not already in use.  Rocky Mount**n High School might not appreciate being used as the setting for a violent crime.   Zangori's Pizza might take offense at being tied to a drug ring.  (There's also a business name generator at the end of this post.)   I'll often create a place name that can be transformed by the inhabitants into something humorous.  Norgood Hollow became "No God Hollow", and Butte Pass became "Butt Crack".  And, by the way, real towns include Pity Me, Cheesequake, Bug Tussle and Humptulip. It seems as though you can put any two words together and you've got a place name.

 Fun facts:
  • Oscar Zoroaster Phadrig Isaac Norman Henkle Emmannuel Ambroise Diggs is the full name of the Wizard of Oz.
  • The character of Snow White may have been inspired by a real woman named Maria Sophia Margaretha Catharina Freifräulein Von Erthal
  • New Zealand and Sweden have banned certain names for people including Lucifer (NZ) and Superman (Sweden).  (I guess you can still call your pet whatever you want.)

Fun questions about characters' names:

  1. Does anyone know the real name of "The Man With the Yellow Hat" in the Curious George books?
  2. From Gilligan's Island:  What was the Professor's real name?
  3. What author created characters with names such as "Anne Chickenstalker", "Mr. Spottletoe", and "Mercy Pecksniff"?
  4. Can you recall at least one book where the protagonist is never named?

Random name generators:
Behind the name
List of random names
Place name generator
Company name generator 
Country/nation name generator 


  1. #2: Roy Hinkley, B.A., B.S., M.A., Ph.D
    and yeah, I cheated. I "knew" the name, but could not remember it.

    I often use names that don't interfere with the story. Only time I look for specifics is if I'm doing something with mythology.

    Thanks Lisa.

  2. I think the Professor's name was Roy.
    Most of my character's names are made up during a brainstorming session. I go for simple alien sounding names. I did have to do some research for my latest manuscript, because I wanted the alien names to have a British flair.

  3. I take the act of naming a character very serious. The name has to fit the character and even be part of their personality and speak to who they are.

    Sadly, I am unable to answer any of your fun questions.

  4. Hungary has a book of approved names parents can choose from. I wrote about it on MopDog a while ago. We don't allow Jesus or God.
    I enjoy naming characters so much sometimes I get lost in research forever :D

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary - Tales of colors
    MopDog - The crazy thing about Hungarians...