N is for Naming Characters

I’m one of those people that really enjoy naming characters. A lot of names that I use were chosen for their sound, more than their meaning (which means that a lot of my names are actually gibberish).

I think the longest name I have ever used for a character is “Akashiseizaborou”. At the time, I was specifically looking for the longest Japanese name I could find for a serious, frowny-pants archangel. Something that also happened a lot with my characters that were created in my teens is the use of Japanese names (see above, and several names below).

As I was saying, a lot of my characters from this period had names of words that I was trying to learn at the time. For instance, I have a set of triplets that students of nihongo might get a kick out of. Their names were Migi, Chushin, and Hidari. These names literally mean right, center, and left, respectively. I also had elementally locked characters named Zetsumei and Owari. (“Death” and “End”.)

In any case, had to stop doing that eventually, because 1) I branched out to different regions in my writing besides those that were inspired by Asia, and 2) I realized a lot of the names I was growing attached to wouldn’t work very well if I attempted to publish.

My penchant for naming people after regular, every day words didn’t really go away, as I now have a bunch of characters named things like Guillotine, Pussywillow, Slate, Otter, Holly, Fable, Narcissus, and Peony, among others.

When a name doesn’t automatically present itself as a word, I next try fun alliterations or syllable duos, like Yendi, Arcus, Jana, Ergon, Ryldur, and so on.

Of course, sometimes even that fails, and I take myself to the net, where I scour down names for regionally similar places to the ones I am writing (using a lot of Hindu and Turkish names right now). The problem with that is that sometimes I end up with a great name––but something far too similar to it is already in use for a bestseller.

For instance, in my current WIP, I am in love with the name “Katerine” (Kat-er-EEN). However, I also just went and watched The Hunger Games, and d’oh, can’t use it anymore! Back to the drawing board…

How do you name your characters? Have you ever fell in love with a name you can’t use anymore, for whatever reason?

Tomorrow: O is for Odds & Ends!

27 thoughts on “N is for Naming Characters

  1. S dot Love says:

    Your drawings are amazing. I’m obsessed. And I love the name Owari:)

    When I choose character names, I go for meaning first, then sound second. For my first novel, music is a huge theme throughout the story so my main character’s name is Cadence.

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  2. Priyanka Agasty says:

    It’s amazing to know you always put so much effort for just naming your characters – from sketching them, to finding similar regional words! Reading you makes me realize how much far I’m yet to travel!! And your sketches are just awesome!

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  3. tdharveyauthor says:

    I tend to choose normal, everyday names for human characters. For the dragons in my Hidden Realm series, I used ancient language like Greek and Latin or old English and used words that described the dragon’s colour or size. I have a baby dragon with star on her forehead called Citali and a yellow Dragon called Goldenrod. That was fun scouring the internet for ideas πŸ˜€

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  4. Miranda Stone says:

    I have a weird quirk when it comes to naming my characters–they can’t have the same name as anyone I know relatively well or am even acquainted with. (Luckily I don’t know that many people. :D)

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  5. J.C says:

    I reflected on my penchant for names beginning with M not that long ago – it surprised me that about half of all female leads across my works had names beginning with M (no idea where it stems from! lol). I like to look online if names don’t immediately present themselves. I don’t think I’ve changed anyones name just yet, but you never know – I haven’t published yet either, so it might happen πŸ˜‰
    Loved seeing your drawings and reading about your naming process, thanks for sharing! I very much like word names, though I don’t use them often myself.

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  6. deborahbrasket says:

    I love naming characters too. Some of my favorite are from a middle-grade series I’m working on about a family that goes sailing around the world. I was looking for fun names with “meaning”. The main characters are Skye and her brother Phoenix, and then there’s the little twin brother and sister, whose names I’m still struggling with. Sage and Poppy are the current favorites.

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  7. Andrew says:

    Wait, I don’t understand why you can’t use the name because of Hunger Games.

    I hate naming characters. Seriously, I hate it. I have to plan out how I am going to come up with names.

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  8. TraceyLynnTobin says:

    I’ve always had a bit of a hard time with names. When I first started writing at a young age, I mostly wrote stories with my friends and I as the main characters, so I didn’t actually need to make up any names. Then as I grew a little older I started into fan fiction, so again, the names were already provided for me. Every now and then I would write something totally original, but the naming was super-difficult for me. The only original name that I can recall from my youth was an assassin girl whom I named Aishira. I have no idea where I got that…it just sounded cool at the time.

    These days I tend to just go through baby books until I find something that suits, or something that I can modify to suit.

    As for falling in love with a name that you can’t use…when I first started writing my fantasy adventure story the main character was based on myself (young and immature…*sigh*), and so I named her from the username I’d been using for years. My username was Toreshi, and so I named this character Tori. These days I plan on rewriting this particular story as a series, and the character is no longer based on me in any way, but the idea of changing her name killed me. I searched for AGES to figure out what to do until finally I came up with the idea of her “full” name being Victoria. Crisis averted. lol πŸ™‚

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  9. Yvonne Ventresca says:

    Glad you shared your drawings!

    I tend to pick similar-sounding names, then have to go back and change them. In my debut novel, Pandemic, there are a lot of deaths, and I didn’t want to kill off family members, so I had to use names of people I didn’t know. It was tricky!

    Hope you are enjoying A to Z.
    Yvonne

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  10. Thomas Weaver says:

    The main character in a novel I’m working on (and have been working on for a VERY long time) has the same first name as a secondary character from a really, really BAD (and unfortunately very famous) vampire romance thing. I’m NOT changing that character’s name. For one thing, having a name in common does not make one character a copy of the other. For another, I have a novella with that character that was published in 1989, well before said vampire romance thing was even an idea in the other author’s mind.

    I see no real reason why you can’t use the name Katerine — unless your character with that name has A LOT in common with Katniss (sp?) other than a VAGUELY similar name. People who are going to scream “You copied!!!” are going to scream that no matter what you do; they’ll find an excuse to accuse you of copying some famous whatever simply if YOUR protagonist has light brown hair, just like the protagonist in some other work of fiction in a genre that’s almost like the one you write in. Don’t give in to the stupidheads. Use whatever name fits the character.

    This is an interesting blog post. You have inspired me to blog about names again, after the A-Z Challenge is over.

    Thomas Weaver
    http://northofandover.wordpress.com

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  11. juliecround says:

    I found after I had written three novels, that names were very significant. In the first book the’hero’ has the same name as his father but will not use it. Confusion over what he is called helps him to avoid being attacked by his prospective father-in-law. In the third book we discover that the’heroine’ has never liked her name – and in the middle book Stable Lane becomes ‘Un-stable Lane’ because of floods.
    Then, in’ Never Run Away’ the ‘heroine’ changes her name in an effort to change her identity and her life.
    As to names fitting characters, they say a lot about the age of a person.For example -how old do you think ‘Rose’ is?

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  12. bizarrejc says:

    I use all my characters names. My first and only published books have two characters with flower names. I did that because they were nice and sweet ladies. Some I’ve made up for the type of story I was writing. I also look up popular/common names for that specific type of characters (ie. vampires and werewolves.)

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