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GoodReads Authors' Discussion > Character names (playing it safe or not..)

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message 1: by Jethro (new)

Jethro Punter | 3 comments Does anyone else struggle with character names. A good name can be a great way to introduce a characters personality, or generate an initial mental image, before they even speak. But a name that is expressive and interesting to one person (particularly in fantasy and science fiction where there is more scope to step outside of the norm) can be ridiculous or bizarre to someone else.

So do you prefer to go safe or risk the stranger (but more interesting) names?


message 2: by Tomas (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 444 comments Naming characters was always the hardest thing for me (okay, second after naming the books/series). As my WIP is fantasy, I want the names to sound like fantasy names, fitting for what I believe the race's names would sound like. Some characters went through a placeholder nickname or two and 2-3 iterations before being given their final name. So, for elves and dwarves, I definitely try for something that would fit them instead of something usual. Human names are somewhat halfway through for me.

Unfortunately, I am not ready to share examples yet.


message 3: by Mark (new)

Mark Kloss (markkloss) | 15 comments I try and not overcomplicate it with names as I think it is something that can just cause you to go round in circles. But I do have fun if I hear an unusual name in life, later putting it in my books!


message 4: by Phillip (new)

Phillip Murrell | 582 comments I always use unusual names if the story is in the future, has alien characters, or is in a fantasy setting. My last manuscript has a woman named Murid. I took three letters from my last name and two from my wife’s maiden name to make it. If the story is in the modern day, regardless of the circumstances that make it a story, I use “normal” names that are commonly heard around the world.


message 5: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl  (cherylllr) | 2287 comments From this reader's pov: interesting names are noticed and appreciated. Names that are hard to pronounce, or too Anglo, or too similar to other characters' names, are irritating. All the Klingon names in Star Trek drive me batty. Murid is great.


message 6: by M.L. (new)

M.L. | 946 comments I fit the situation and character/character's background. If it's a mix, and it usually is, then both current names and those you wouldn't normally hear.
Names are fun. Researching, say, Russian or Polish names, Irish, can take on a life of its own.


message 7: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin | 685 comments I keep to normal names that would fit with the period and locale. Since I write a lot of time travel or alternate history novels, I first take care of researching what kind of names were in usage then and there. Middle Ages names, among others, were very different from modern names, with family names not being even common before the Renaissance period. If working on a fantasy novel, I avoid the kind of fancy, nearly unpronounceable names too many authors seem to love.


message 8: by Jim (new)

Jim Stein (jimsteinbooks) | 22 comments Mostly traditional names, but I like to look up the meaning or origins to see that they match character backstory or personality. I keep a database for each book/series, but find I still use too many names starting with the same first letter. In my 1st book, the main character is Edan (which means fire), but I shorten it to Ed for the main narrative.


message 9: by Trike (new)

Trike Cheryl wrote: "From this reader's pov: interesting names are noticed and appreciated. Names that are hard to pronounce, or too Anglo, or too similar to other characters' names, are irritating. All the Klingon nam..."

Some authors are unrelentingly terrible at this. In the Connie Willis book Crosstalk the main character is named Briddey.

Just... no.

Every single time I saw that name it stopped me cold. Which was a lot. Because she’s the protagonist. Is it pronounced like the Irish name “Bridey” or does it sound like “biddy”? I have no idea, so it confused me. Such a simple name, too.

Contrast with the character from Larry Niven’s Ringworld named Halrloprillalar. That *appears* to be insanely difficult to pronounce but once you try it phonetically it makes sense. And they called her Prill for short.

I would stay away from rare names, personally. I would have no idea how to pronounce “Siobhan” (shivvon) if I hadn’t gone to school with a girl named that. I could not get the correct pronunciation of Hermione from Harry Potter until I saw the movie.


message 10: by Tomas (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 444 comments Michel wrote: "If working on a fantasy novel, I avoid the kind of fancy, nearly unpronounceable names too many authors seem to love."

Yeah, that's troublesome for a reader. I think it's good to find a middle point, names that sound good and look like fantasy names but without so complicated spelling.


message 11: by M.L. (new)

M.L. | 946 comments The way unusual names are brought in matters. A data dump is just confusing, especially at the start.

About the name Hermione, I think Rowling must have gotten feedback on it. In book 4 there is a scene where Hermione goes to great pains to explain the pronunciation of her name to Victor Krum who up to then is saying "Her-me-oh-ninny."

Kevin Hearn has a pronunciation guide in his Druid Chronicles. It added to the richness.


message 12: by Kira (new)

Kira Wilson | 15 comments Like Tomas said, sometimes spelling counts for a lot with unusual names. What good does it do to create awesome names only to have the readers get confused and be unable to enjoy them?

I enjoy coming up with unusual names, but my brain has a bad habit of thinking of them at the randomest of times (like when I'm standing in line at the supermarket and, you know, not writing), then forgetting them later. So I started writing them down in a notebook I keep in my purse. Useful for when you need a name that just sounds a certain way.

My husband has an amazing and enviable talent for just coming up with great names on the fly. He's named at least 75% of our characters to date.


message 13: by Trike (new)

Trike Kira wrote: "My husband has an amazing and enviable talent for just coming up with great names on the fly. He's named at least 75% of our characters to date. "

Of course, most of those he comes up with are “Gary.”


message 14: by Trike (last edited Jun 07, 2018 03:03PM) (new)

Trike On the subject of character names, one curious tidbit comes from John Steakley who only wrote two books, Armor and Vampire$. Both feature main characters named Jack Crow and Felix. In a little note on the Vampire$ copyright page he wrote, “This Felix is no other Felix. This Jack Crow is no other Jack Crow.”

I always wondered why he did that. The books are so different, the first a Starship Troopers type of MilSF war story, the second a horror novel. He could have been hinting at some sort of Eternal Champions, a la Michael Moorcock, but he specifically denies it.

Maybe he just liked those those names.




message 15: by AndrewP (new)

AndrewP (andrewca) | 352 comments If your looking for Scandinavian sounding names, open an Ikea catalog at a random page and pick an item:)


message 16: by M.L. (new)

M.L. | 946 comments That's interesting, giving two characters the same name in two unrelated books. I guess he just liked the names. I don't know how far apart they were published but maybe he got a lot of questions, are they the same, and he mentioned it to make it clear they weren't.
Murakami has a character of the same name in two books. It's not a series but the person has the same occupation, same description. So even though he never says it's the same person, that's how I understood it.


message 17: by Tomas (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 444 comments AndrewP wrote: "If your looking for Scandinavian sounding names, open an Ikea catalog at a random page and pick an item:)"

Well, when I wanted a Scandinavian-like name for dwarf characters, I just used names of metal band members. Works just as well, I guess.


message 18: by Michel (new)

Michel Poulin | 685 comments There are sites that lists the most common names in each country. They are easy to find by googling 'List of .... names' and give you numerous, authentic names that would be able to fit in a fantasy story.


message 19: by Robert (new)

Robert Zwilling | 20 comments When I encounter a character name or location I can't pronounce I make up my own pronunciation, that way I don't keep stopping every time I run across it.

One simple rule for naming characters is to have every name start with a different letter.

When making complex names I tend to use syllables that are easy to recognize.


message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

I am calling my heroes in Short Stories of in RPG (computer)games the names from my RPG-Heroes. I do not trost the name-generators


message 21: by Peggy (new)

Peggy (psramsey) | 393 comments My problem with names is that I have a real hard time changing them. Naming them makes them more real, somehow, so if I need to rename someone (say, if I think of a better name, or another character has a similar name) it's really hard for me to make it stick.

PS: Yes, I know about find/replace. :-) It just doesn't work as well in my brain.


message 22: by Tomas (new)

Tomas Grizzly | 444 comments There was one name n my story that I iterated on a bit and found myself using the older version a few times so I had to go back and fix it. Apart from few, it was hard for me to come up with the names, the iterations were usually small so that was not confusing for me.

Apart from Sagittus which is taken from the constellation Sagittarius, that was far too easy, just leaving three letters. Well, originally the name in my work had double G instead of double T but it felt weird.


message 23: by Margaret (new)

Margaret | 412 comments Apart from Sagittus which is taken from the constellation Sagittarius, that was far too easy, just leaving three letters. Well, originally the name in my work had double G instead of double T but it felt weird.

I can see where it might. I'd automatically pronounce a double G with a "hard" sound, which would make the character's name start with "Saggy." Probably not an idea you wanted to convey! :D


message 24: by Micah (new)

Micah Sisk (micahrsisk) | 1436 comments "If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things." ~ Confucius

It all depends on the type of book you're writing and who your audience is likely to be.

My pet peeve with names in fiction--especially fantasy and SF--is character names that simply feel made up. Like you look at them and think "yeah, this is just the author trying to make a name that looks exotic." Lots of x's and z's and double/triple consonants are key tip offs.

Another pet peeve is pulling names randomly from classical mythology or making them all look Latinized/Romanized.

IMO, names need to feel correct for the book setting, but not be so exotic that the audience you're writing for is put off by them. This, however, does introduce some difficulty if/when you're writing a book set in, say, ancient Norse times or in some part of the world far removed from your target demographic.

Names like Hjördis are perfectly normal in Scandinavia and not difficult to parse if you've heard them pronounced before, but your average Joe in Kansas or Texas or West Virginia is going to stumble over them. But you wouldn't want to name a Norse warrior Bob either!

I tend to default to names that aren't especially weird, but when I'm doing far future space stuff, I try to mix in names from cultures around the world, often times compounding European names with Asian, African, etc. ones--intermarriage and the melding of Earth's nationalities into a homogenous population out in space, I think, will mix the naming conventions up a lot.

As for aliens? I haven't written any. But if I do, they will have human names because my audiences are human and most likely the POV characters will be human, using human names given to alien races/creatures. It's absurd to think that we would adopt names for aliens derived from phonetic spellings of a languages we cannot physically speak. It would be like giving a dolphin the name Kkkkk-woooooeeeepooop-tck-tck-tck because that's what its name sounds like to us.


message 25: by Trike (last edited Jun 13, 2018 06:08PM) (new)

Trike Micah wrote: ""It's absurd to think that we would adopt names for aliens derived from phonetic spellings of a languages we cannot physically speak. It would be like giving a dolphin the name Kkkkk-woooooeeeepooop-tck-tck-tck because that's what its name sounds like to us. "

In Niven’s Protector he does just that with the character Phssthpok. It’s simple enough that I actually just spelled it correctly without having to look it up. I think someone can get away with it if it’s not too extreme.

I’ve seen some names that were just preposterously long. I think there’s a Zelazny short story with a title like that and one from the early 80s titled something like Ginungundalap. These are derived from Somoan or Indian types of names, many of which I find completely impenetrable because they’re 14 letters long or more. Those southern Indian names are insane, because theyre not just incredibly long but they’ll string 4 or 6 or 8 names together. Their given name is Srikrishnaanjaneya Narayana Phani Kalanadhabhatta Srinivasa Aniruddha, yet whenever you call customer service based in India they always say, “Hello, my name is Mike.”

Edit:

Here’s the story - it’s a dolphin name from Zelazny’s collection My Name is Legion:

"'Kjwalll'kje'k'koothai'lll'kje'k": At a research station in the Bahamas a diver has died, apparently in an attack by a dolphin... But dolphins do not attack humans, and someone suspects foul play.

Maybe that’s what you were thinking of.


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