Names Are Power

There are hundreds of thousands of names in the world stretching from the beginning of time until right now. Each has its meaning, its sound, its flavor.

Some people have names that just fit, you know? You just can’t imagine calling them something else.

Others don’t work at all. A surfer chick from the California beaches named Eunice? Hah! Fat chance!

The same goes for character creation. A writer builds the world in which their story takes place brick by brick. One of those bricks involves devoloping characters, and each must have an appropriate name.

But where do you find these things? As I mentioned above, there are hundreds of thousands of them. Which one should you choose?

If you’re lucky, a name will just pop into your head. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen often enough. Sometimes I have to search long and hard before finding a name for my character that works.

Here are some of my resources and tips to do the trick:

Online Name Generators

One of the easiest routes to go, especially if you’re not <em>too</em> picky, is to use random name generators online. I’ve listed a few that I’ve accessed upon occasion.

  1. Random Name Generator (Very creative title!) Use this one for a list of general contemporary names.
  2. donjon; RPG Tools – As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, I’m an old-school Role Playing Gamer. I use a lot of RPG source books and the like. This site has the benefit having of a ton of generators for world-building as well as fantasy and science fiction names. I love this place!
  3. Seventh Sanctum – Another excellent site for the fantasy/science fiction crowd. If you understand gamer-speak, click the “Generator Types” tab and you’ll find a large selection of character creation generators to fill your world with random people.
  4. The Name Generator – (Yet another creative title…) Unlike the Random Name Generator above, this one only gives you one name at a time in the beginning. You have to click the “more options” link to change the parameters.
  5. Behind The Name – Not exactly a name generator, the main page nevertheless gives you the option to see a random name every day. Plus you can look for the contemporary modern names in many different countries.

Other Random Searches

If none of these turn anything up, you can always toss in a Google search parameter.

Say your character was born in Germany and her family immigrated to the United States when she was a child. Google search Deutch newspapers and see what comes up! Photos of people will have their names captioned and articles will be written with reporter bylines. If you can piece enough of the language together (and maybe use an online translator,) you can find proper names and surnames in the article texts.

How authentic is that?

Then there’s the down and dirty non-technical way: find a phonebook or encyclopedia. Throw it open to a random page and blindly point at an entry. There’s your character name!

Mixin’ It Up

Suppose you’re in a coffee shop without internet access and you need a quick name for a character that abruptly showed up in your scene. What do you do?

Look around. There are advertisements, right? Specialty coffees, flyers on the nearby bulletin board for local community causes and classes. Grab a couple of them and mix up the letters.

Coffee grown in Sumatra becomes Suma, the captain of Azrael’s personal guard in On Azrael’s Wings. In fact, all of Azrael’s captains came from a mixture of different coffees and ads I saw that day at the Coffee People I was visiting.

Another trick is to take someone you know and mix up their name. I did it with the boy in Freya’s Tears. I knew a fellow at work called Jimmy Santos.

Jim-my San-tos = Jimsan Mytos

That’s something you can use with any phonebook discovery, too.

Remember:

Hundreds of thousands of names throughout the course of human history. There’s bound to be one that resonates with you, one that screams, “This is my character!” It’s just a matter of finding it.

Does anyone have other name generators or tricks to suggest? I’m always looking for more and I bet lots of people reading the comments are interested too.


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14 thoughts on “Names Are Power

  1. Hi Jordan,

    I keep a list of names in an app on my phone which syncs with my laptop and desktop. The app is Evernote and I use the free version.

    When I meet someone – the girl at Kinko’s, the server at the restaurant, the random person you meet at a party – anywhere I hear a name I like, I add it to the list. I refer back to the list when I am writing to see what “fits” my character.

    In my first novel, I changed the main character’s name 3 times before I settled on a name that “fit” her personality.

    I will check out the sites you listed too. Thanks!

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    1. That is a terrific idea, Denise! I use Evernote for my story ideas and a list of title suggestions. I never considered making a name note!

      Thank you!

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  2. I was totally frustrated on my current WIP because I had to change three characters names about four times. I finally went to lists of baby names for the years they would have been born, considering they all had conservative type parents. Wait, I had four character’s names I had to change. See my frustration? ACK! My more creative names never gave me such a fit…

    Ona

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  3. I would so read a book called, ‘Eunice the California Surfer Chick’! 😀

    I have a document where I send all my interesting looking typos or misread signs. (being a tad dyslexic helps) By interesting, I mean that the order of letters suggests an emotional or think-y response.

    When I’m writing the first draft I’ll usually use a semi-random name as a placeholder, then as the story and the character develops I might modify it or change it completely or keep it as-is.

    I write SF/F so I’m not limited to human constructs, but names still have to ‘make sense’. 🙂

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    1. I have considered using a placeholder. I know of some authors who have made the character name a trait–i.e., Commander Grumpy-Pants–to remind them of that character’s primary perceptions in life. So far I haven’t had to go that route, however.

      And I think ‘Eunice the California Surfer Chick’ actually has a nice ring to it!

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  4. I don’t have a name generation hint, but from the flip side both of my daughters are named after characters in literature :). After they were born and named we were watching the movie Babe, Pig in the City. It turns out the farmer’s wife’s full name is both of my daughters’ names combined.

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  5. I’m trying to post a comment with some other suggestions of resources. I’ve tried posting about five times and it hasn’t come through. It occurs to me that the inclusion of links may be hitting some sort of anti-spam-bot filter. If this comes through, maybe someone could check the back end?

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    1. I don’t know if this was fixed or not, Heather, as I don’t have access to the back end of the site. I am curious, though. I’m always up for interesting resources! Can you post them to Facebook or on your blog?

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      1. I tried once more, trying to force the comment into being plain text in case it’s the live links that was the problem. No go. The comment doesn’t really make sense out of the context of this thread, unfortunately. So let’s just say that a Google search on “ssa gov babynames” or on “babynamewizard” will get some useful resources for American given name trends in the last century. And those who are interested in historically accurate names for pre-modern European cultures (and some non-European), try Googling “Medieval names archive” to find a large collection of articles on the names of specific cultures and times (to which I have contributed). Sorry to make people do their own searches, but I suspect this blog has been set up to disallow web links in order to filter out spammers.

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  6. One thing I would say is that even if the perfect name doesn’t immediately show up, go with one that’s almost right and keep writing. I had a character called Gina for several years before I acknowledged reluctantly that she was about thirty years too young to be called that, and she became Georgia with minimal pain. Find+replace is a wonderful thing!

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    1. Kathleen, I hear you about the find+replace function. When I initially put ‘Warlord Metal’ on the web, the character’s name was one that I adored. Once I came to the point of being published, I used it as my pen name (Jordan.) I then had to change the character name when it was time to publish the book! I couldn’t have done it without the help of MS Word!

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