30 Days of Writing: Day Three

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

How do you come up with names, for characters (and for places if you’re writing about fictional places)?

Most of the time, I slap a name on a character and hope it works.

In my misguided youth, I thought I could create names like JRR Tolkien. After many pseudo-Tolkien names, I realized that I do not accurately create languages. I also realized that names reflect the culture, so I determined that rather than force awkward names on my characters, I should work on creating cultures and family traditions. My hero of The Continent has a Roman name (Livius) despite not being Italian because it’s something his family has done for generations.

My names are often allusions to other works or people–I have a current character named McGoohan for Patrick McGoohan, who played Number Six in The Prisoner. Another character is Bradbury, for Ray, author of Fahrenheit 451. Sometimes, as in the cases of McGoohan and Bradbury, these allusions work. Other times, they border on the ridiculous. I named a character Orlando for Shakespeare’s character (and also Orlando Bloom, because I was thirteen when I came up with this character). It didn’t fit, and the poor guy wandered around with an uncomfortable name until he happened on one that suited him. That name was Geoffrey (for Chaucer).

Some characters, like Geoffrey, ‘name themselves’. They stumble about with names that don’t fit until, somehow, they find one that fits. A more recent character (gasp, a female!) was stuck with Louisa until she asserted herself and said, “Listen Beth. My name is Penelope.” Which is just better for her.

My most commonly used name at the moment is Simon. My RAF story has a primary character named Simon Reed, another Simon (surname: Drake) is currently in search of a story, and a few more have Simons as secondary characters (and Simon is one of Geoffrey’s middle names).

For fictional places, I use allusions as well. In The Continent‘s original form, it took place in a solar system that had been populated, primarily, by Italians (why not), so the planets were all named for regions of Italy. The cities and towns were transferred onto the planets as well. Kind of weak, but I thought it would work. Of course, the names should change a bit, to reflect the changing language (as Haarlem became Harlem and so forth).

I’m trying to name an English country house right now. It’s not a terribly big house, a cottage, really. I’m kind of thinking Shangri-La, but that’s just cliche.

The Revenge of Heroes Named Jack: Attacking the Writer!

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Sigh. Just a little while ago I posted my epic list of Heroes Named Jack. It seems that I’ve slipped into that realm; worse, my Jack is sizing up the MC and is attempting to pounce.

He’s convinced that he’s the MC; I’ve had this problem before, and I usually give in. Not this time. Of course, everyone is the main character in their own life stories, so he’s right in one aspect. Its just not his story.

So, Jack’s name obviously has to go. I expect to change character names at least once for most characters (but my female MC’s name fits her quite well). I like Harry for him, but there’s that boy wizard. Edward is also a possibility, but there’s that Book That Shall Not Be Named. Naming characters is tough, especially when trying to use commonplace names! Some other character pops into my mind. There’s also Alasdair as an option, which could work as I plan on referring to him by his last name. But its too la-di-da for him.

Maybe I’ll be lucky and like Geoffrey, he’ll name himself.

If you’re going to write an action/adventure story…

Nerds Have More Fun, The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

you had better name your main character “Jack.”


A few months ago, my friends and I noticed that a large quantity of action heroes had the name Jack. I thought I’d share an abridged list with you.

Jack Bauer, 24

Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy

Jack Shepard, Lost

Jack Aubrey, Master and Commander and Aubrey-Maturin Series

Jack Ryan, The Hunt for Red October and others

Jack Harkness, Doctor Who and Torchwood

Jack O’Neill, Stargate SG-1

This is merely a brief selection of Heroes Named Jack. Save yourself the trouble of coming up with new names for your action hero. “Jack” is perfect.

Names, names, glorious names!

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For days, I’ve been meaning to look up more Dutch, French and Italian names to populate The Continent.

I finally got around to it, and rediscovered my favorite name site(s):

Behind the Name and Surnames.

These sites are particularly helpful. They collect and sort names from different cultures (including seperate sections for mythologies and “ancient”) with pronounciations, meanings and statistics.

Names, culture, and 42

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I enjoy poking about through the Yahoo!Answers Books and Authors section on occasion, and often find questions of people asking what to name their characters. One such question asked for names to be used in a science fiction novel. The inquierer only had that these characters were from a different planet and wanted the names to sound cool.

When writing fantasy or science fiction, I find its a good idea to come up with a culture/world before coming up with names (although sometimes I have a name for a character a build the culture around that…a little counter intuitive, but it works for the rough draft). I also try to ask myself these questions: What sort of world do your characters live in? What are their values? How are their names formed? Is there any particular reason as to why I’m naming him this?

As I said, sometimes I work counterintuitively. I had a name for a character and a setting, but his world didn’t have a true culture, or even a naming practice. So I took what I had for his name and based the world’s naming practice off of that. Roman first names, Dutch last names. It was simple enough, but from there I was able to think about the values and work ethic of his culture. Another character in the same story had a completely out-of-left-field name. It didn’t fit the world at all. So I changed it, and he better “meshed” with what I was trying to create.

Picking a name just because it looks cool isn’t a good idea. Be sure that there is at least a reason for it. In the world of typical medieval England fantasy, it does not make sense for an English serf to be named Reiko or Victoria. Names should reflect the culture, and vice versa.

On another note, this is post 42! The meaning of life, the universe and everything is no clearer to me now than before this.

On Names

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

I’m on a bit of a naming kick lately. I’ve been thinking about what makes a good character name. Is it one that conjures up images of grandeur with mythological connotations? Or is it one that is bland, simple, and easy to build a character around?

These days, I favor the latter. My characters have everyday names, ones that won’t garner too much attention. Geoffrey. Julia. Will. David. Linda. When I was younger (i.e., in my early Tolkien obsessed days), my characters had slightly (to very) ridiculous names. Unlike Tolkien’s world, there failed to be any rhyme or reason to the names. My personal favorite? Random Redux. A friend and I came up with Mr. Redux while in high school. He was a space captain, out to save the world, and so on and so forth. The thing was his name didn’t fit into the universe. Not to mention it is rather silly.

Back to naming things.

These days, I name characters before I come up with their personalities. This might be a bit counter productive, but I see it as naming babies. The kid’s born, and you look at him and say, “My! He looks like a Brian!” or a Julian or a Michael. The babies have no  (or minimal) personality. They’re red and sticky and look like lizards. Note that the last time I was in a delivery room was the day I was born.

Sometimes, though, I find I have to wait until I find the perfect name. When I started writing my novel (the first draft is done, but I still think of it as in its infancy), my main character didn’t have a name. He ended up being named William relatively quickly. The name just sort of fit, perfectly. I like to think of it as the characters naming themselves.

My attempts to name my characters often ends up with them throwing off these given names, and ending up with names they’ve “selected.” I tried to saddle Geoffrey with some pretty horrific pseudo-Tolkien monikers (I currently don’t have access to these notebooks), but fortunately he bucked them. It was during my freshman year of high school attempt to read The Canterbury Tales when he said, “Screw it all. My name’s Geoffrey.”