Monday, 16 August 2010

What's In A Name?

You know, I'm not sure how other authors do it, or if they get hung up on it like I do, but I think it was easier naming my two sons than it is to choose names for my characters.

I mean, my two boys are going to carry those names for the rest of their lives, and it seemed simple in comparison to trying to name a fictional character! 

I think my main worry is that if I choose a name randomly, has my subconscious picked it out from somewhere, and this person actually exists, I've read their name, or spoken to them, or they are in someone else's book.  I want to just say, that if I do choose or use a name, and someone thinks it is linked to them.  It is not.  I seriously just go with names I like.  I try to avoid names of friends/people that I know and try to use names that I actually quite like, but I have met a lot of people over time, so I'm bound to stumble on one of them.

Admittedly, Helen Fielding did give 'Mark Darcy' his name from Mr Darcy out of Pride and Prejudice, because she liked Colin Firth.  And was so pleased that they got Colin Firth to play Mark Darcy in the film, Bridget Jone's Diary.

Some times an actor or actress does inspire me for a look.  I'll keep them pictured in my head, so that's a rough guide to how my character will look, and I might take the first name of a character they've played, and put it in my story... though they will be a completely different character - obviously!  And I'll reminding myself that if Helen Fielding can do it, so can I.

I like to choose what are in my opinion pretty names for my heroines and strong masculine names for my heroes.  And names that I don't like, tend to go to my bad guys, the antagonists.  I also try not to go too unusual.  I don't want my reading thinking 'how do I pronounce Aoife?'  Because I don't know either!

I have been known to use spam names, though that doesn't happen so much since I've switched to googlemail.  (Hmm... maybe I should set up a hotmail account just to get spam?).  Once, I got a spam email from a Carlos Flores, and I turned him into a great Italian-American bad guy.

One of my writing buddies did give me link to the Random Name Generator.  This is just great, but sometimes too obscure, and I do wonder if the names sound too American. But it has helped me for inspiration.  I tend to use this to get my surnames.

So, at the moment, I've been going through the baby name book that I used to choose both of my son's names out of.  What's really useful is that it has a chart; the top fifty names for girls and boys over certain periods in the UK and in the US.  So if my character is in his thirties, I look down 1975 and choose a name from the list.  If I want him older, then I go down the 1950 line, younger 1998 (that's the most recent they do). 

But even then, sometimes I'm still not happy, and worry that if I've chosen a name that someone's used or actually is called that name.  Or my subconscious is playing tricks on me.  I swear, it is not deliberate, it's just the character in my head suits that name.  It is just a name.

If anyone has an easier suggesting for picking names and not worrying about it, I'd gladly take that advice.

Same goes for place names, company names... It's the hardest thing about writing.


  1. The Internet Movie Database is great for names. Go to the full details of the crew for a movie - ignoring all the famous people of course - and you find vast lists of people. Making movies involves a lot of people.

    They're great for Americans, show the great variety of names, especially last names - they have, with their origin all over the world. And some great combinations, too of the exotic and the mundane.

    Or for foreign names take a look at the same thing but for movies made in the country you want your characters to be from and find a nice selection.

    I once needed a bunch of likely sounding names for some men from Cameroon and looked up a list of Cameroonian footballers! :D

  2. I like the baby names idea, that's good! I've also read somewhere that if you want someone who sounds credible, use a politician's first name with a different politician's surname. Obviously Gordon Milliband might not be the best option, but apparently it's usually a good test of credibility.

    Other than that - yeah, just go with what you like. I called a psychologist Dr Caulfield in a book, which I worried was too obvious a reference to Catcher in the Rye, but not that many people actually picked up on it. Giving names from characters can really help your reader to visualise and imagine your character, as long as it's fairly subtle and doesn't get in the way of the story.

    Good subject, by the way - liked this idea a lot.


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