Friday, April 20, 2012

Two tips for naming characters

Writing Status:  DARWIN 2 first draft is almost done -- four chapters left.
Music I'm writing to:  "MOON" Soundtrack by Clint Mansell

Here's two techniques I use when I need a good character name in a hurry.  For some reason I find it hard to pull names out of thin air, and using my friends' names is a well that has nearly run dry.

Character Name if the person's birthplace and/or time are important:
Let's say I need a good name for a twenty year Scottish man.  I go to Wikipedia and search for "Scotland National..." -- the autofill offers me a dozen completion options.  Look for the ones related to sports.  In this case I'll pick "Scotland National football team".
Now scroll down and look for the roster(s).  Often you'll find the current squad, plus links or even lists of squads from previous years.  There before you are the names of 10, 20... 40 Scots.  I don't know what it is about athletes, but they seem to have consistently great names.
What I do next is start reading them, taking one player's first name and another's last.  I basically do this until i find a new combination that has the kind of sound I'm looking for.  For example, if I wanted a gangster type right now I'll go with... Tommy Roxburgh. Nice.  If I was looking for a geek type, I might choose Dawson Bardsley.  Villain? Lee Ormond.

There we go.  Three good names in less than a minute.  And none are stereotypical Scottish names, which I think is good but it might not suit your needs.  You could always pick something like Iain MacNaughton.  The point is you have choices.

Note you can can of course search for women's teams, or teams from many years ago (olympic lists are great too).  And obviously just about every country will have multiple sporting organizations to pick from.


Character Name if something random will do:
There's plenty of random name generators out there, and some of them are quite good.  My favorite for "real world" names is Kleimo, which uses U.S. Census data to randomly marry first and last names, and even includes an obscurity factor (picks names that show up more or less often in census data).

Being random, the names are all over the map, but remember as you read the results that you can create your own pairings.  Don't limit yourself to the list it gave you, just start mixing them in your mind.  The key for you is a pairing that sounds good off the tongue.

I just ran it and came up with Max Elsey, Kurt Bourland, and for a woman... Eve Valerius.  Eve Valerius!  Holy crap that's a great name.  I'm going to use it.  Back off, would-be thieves.  Generate your own.

Last but not least
Lastly, its not a bad idea to google the name(s) you picked, or search for them on Amazon, and just make sure there's at least no one famous (or infamous) with the name you picked.  Might save you some headaches later.

Now excuse me while I go write up a character profile for Eve Valerius.