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Names, names, names?

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I have only a few completed stories, and a bunch of stuff in my ideas/drafts folder.

That's creating a problem: Names.

I have a flash fiction story with two characters. I have temporary names for both. Nothing's doing it for me. I don't want a truly uncommon name here. I also don't really want to use names of close friends, cousins, and so on. (Awkward, no?)

What do you do when you get stuck on character names?

Have you ever reused given names, or does that feel strange?

I'm not giving up yet. Something's bound to click, but so far, nothin'.

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The Internet has whole sites devoted to names for babies which I found useful to peruse, sometimes just to know what not to call a character.

Then there are lists of the most popular names of a given year or era, which can be useful for historical stories.

But considering the symbolism that a name may impart to a character is also important. I doubt that any writer would call a heroic character, Adolf, for instance, unless they wanted to be ironic or in a parody. It also depends on the nature of the character and whether the name needs to have a symbolic context or not. Sometimes you can get away with a common name like Tom, but be cautious about calling his best friend Jerry, unless you are doing that intentionally.

I have assigned any old name to a character until I find that he demands a name that becomes obvious later, during the writing.

Learning about the character's psyche and their idiosyncrasies will often remind the writer of historical precedents which suggest a name or variations of names. Suitability is very much up to the author and the significance the author needs to attach to the character. Nameless characters are possible, but most readers need to relate to a name that psychologically fits the nature of the character.

Symbolically it is possible to be too cute. Don't call your feminine heroine, Jane Air, (instead of Jane Eyre) but on the other hand calling her Jane, might give another character the opportunity to refer to her as Jane Airhead. In this example the joke has to be considered as essential to the character building or for the plot. Such nuances often suggest themselves during the writing and must be accepted or rejected on the grounds of contributing to the writing, positively.

As for family names, I avoid them except for minor characters, or unless the strength of the character is powerful enough to disassociate itself from the family member.

In other words don't let the name stop you from writing the story. The names will come.

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LOL, Tim, I might just do that.

And yeah, Cole, I've checked those recently. When I want to look up or use a name's meaning, I tend to do that. But I know more Michaels than I can shake a stick at (and just why would I want to shake a stick at them?) and I'm trying not to trip over other character names or real life people.

I guess, though, I may have to use some common names, even when I know someone with that name. -- So, uh, if a "Tim" shows up in a story, he's not this Tim -- or any of the other Tims I've known.

Oh, and I about flipped out over the past couple of months, when I've heard a Codey (or Cody) as a character on TV or a singer. -- But, LOL, I've run into a couple of "Bens" lately as TV story characters too. Kind of a funny feeling, when that Ben does something cool or gets in trouble or does something you wouldn't.

Ever since I learned there's an old Irish Gaelic name, Taidhg (modern Tighe or Teague) that means a poet or bard or philosopher-poet, I've been trying to find a way to fit that one in, but haven't quite gotten to it.

The particular story I'm trying to figure names for... does anybody have a suggestion for names for an easily rattled and uptight body-shy guy, or a guy who, well, has no such problems with in-home nekkid-ness? :angel:

Oddly enough, I think it'll meet CW's submission guidelines.

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Despite my earlier post, I am in agreement with Cole about the name not having to be related or suggestive of the character traits.

But having said that, I think a totally inappropriate name that is in conflict with the character traits can work, in certain instances, where the character becomes more or less, than the name suggests. This can create a new iconic reference for the name where previous associations are overridden, at least for that particular story.

A case in point would be Evan Almighty; a very real juxtaposition of conflicting names, although I think his older sibling Bruce Almighty was more effective.

In both cases, the character developed further than the name suggested possible, but that was also part of the fun.

It is interesting that some names are neutral, whilst others decidedly carry often, formidable associations. I remember a story in which a character had been called George Martin, but the author had no idea that it was a famous name, (George Martin was the famous producer for the Beatle's recordings.) In addition there are other prominent people of the same name. Googling a name will often reveal reasons not to use a certain combination of Given names with a surname, but I wouldn't get too concerned as there are many people out there with the same name.

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We have it so good, us modern-day writers. We use computers, instead of typewriters, ink, and paper. I've had occasion where I needed to change a name, well into writing a story. Because I discovered it had an association that I definitely didn't want attributed to my character. So, in two seconds, thanks to global search-and-replace, the task was done. Imagine the same thing prior to a couple of decades ago.

Sometimes I have names I like before I have a story to put 'em in. Sometimes that works. And sometimes it doesn't.

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We have it so good, us modern-day writers. We use computers, instead of typewriters, ink, and paper. I've had occasion where I needed to change a name, well into writing a story. Because I discovered it had an association that I definitely didn't want attributed to my character. So, in two seconds, thanks to global search-and-replace, the task was done. Imagine the same thing prior to a couple of decades ago.

You do have to check after doing that, however. In the story I've written that should be posted soon, I had a character named Hank. I didn't like that for a couple of reasons, so changed it to Joel, using the Find and Replace function. Later, when I was rechecking the story for the umpteenth time, I found a couple instances with the word 'tjoels' in it.

C

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You do have to check after doing that, however. In the story I've written that should be posted soon, I had a character named Hank. I didn't like that for a couple of reasons, so changed it to Joel, using the Find and Replace function. Later, when I was rechecking the story for the umpteenth time, I found a couple instances with the word 'tjoels' in it.

C

That's funny. I've done the same thing. Two ways around this are to ensure that the search/replace is case-sensitive, or, instead of replacing "Hank", use " Hank" instead. With a space. Of course, that still causes issues when a line begins with the name, and you still have to be careful with possessives, pluralization, and whatnot at the end, but it helps.

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Someone explain something to me. In the last few years, boys' names with -aden (or ai or ay for that long a) went through the roof: Caden, Kayden. Jaden. Hayden. Aidan (which is generally a long i, but anyway, close). Even a Braden.

Oddly enough, my name wasn't in the top 100 for my decade, but it's gotten more popular in the last few years.

I found several names I like from the last three or four years, but I'm still not sure what I want for the story in question. I'm about ready to do a random pull the name out of your hat trick. Or thereabouts.

No, I'm not going to name them Thing1 and Thing2, but it's sort of tempting.

I'd use one of the names I have already, but I've decided that fits something else better, so I'm saving that for later. The other name, I wasn't crazy about to start with, it was just a placeholder.

If this thing had a cliffhanger, I'd be tempted to name one of 'em Clifford.

I did see a name I've never heard before: Colton, which BehindTheName.com claims comes from "Cola's Town" instead of "Coal Town" or "Colt Town." I might've guessed also "Colt" plus a diminutive suffix, like -y/-ie or -in or -ito. -- But Colton, for a story, sounds like you're intentionally trying to suggest colts.

Grumble, grouse, grinch, growl.

Oh, I'll think of something eventually.

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I'm still not sure what I want for the story in question.

I did see a name I've never heard before: Colton....

Of course you have a name for the story: Evan. What am I here for, anyway? You asked, and I supplied an exemplary name. Use it!!!

And as for Colton, that's the town in California where Wyatt Earp retired. You're not writing a Western, are you?

C

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Camy, you likely don't know it, but you hit one of the names of a relative of mine. :laugh:

Hmm, have I named anyone Evan already? I'm not sure. Might do that.

This one's not a Western, but I have at least one Western in my drafts folder. Lots of farmers and red dirt back in the family tree, so a Western pretty much is required at some point. That, and I went to college where they say "Howdy!" by tradition. (I'm OK with burnt orange, too.)

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I think it was Baxter Black who commented on the fact that Wyoming cities were becoming popular names for children these days: Cody, Sheridan, Cheyenne, Jackson. He then wondered: Can Thermopolis and Chugwater be far behind?

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I think I might've gone to college with a couple of guys called Chugwater. Well, Chugbeer, more like. ;)

Ah, yes, I can just hear the school grounds conversations, "Hey, this is my friend Chugwater...."

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I think I might've gone to college with a couple of guys called Chugwater. Well, Chugbeer, more like. ;)

Ah, yes, I can just hear the school grounds conversations, "Hey, this is my friend Chugwater...."

I hope it doesn't catch on here. I'd hate to have to introduce you to my friend, Oodnadatta....(oood - na - datta)

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I think the most important thing about character names is to make them easily differentiated. Don't have three characters named Tad, Chad, and Brad. I think having the lead character with a two syllable name, and assigning the secondary character with a one syllable name, starting with a completely different letter, is a good practice (or vice-versa). At least give them a completely different sound, to help the readers keep the characters straight -- so to speak.

And I'm also totally opposed to people who come up with weird, goofy, trendy names for characters. To me, that's just too showy. Me personally, I've generally tried to grab names from people I personally know (or a famous celebrity) and just use them in stories, sometimes with a minor tweak. At least three times, I've used the names of some of my best friends from childhood in my stories, just for nostalgia. I think too often, people don't use relatively-common names like "John" or "Michael" in fiction, and it's kind of perplexing. Regular names are fine -- it's the character traits and action that make them different.

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YES, absolutely, differentiate your names.

I get so confused sometimes when there's a Ben and Bill in a story or a Mike and a Matt. I lose track of who means what to whom. (once read a story that had Mike, Mark and Matt. Damn, that pissed me off.)

Also, DesDownUnder already rhymes with Chugwater, so maybe we SHOULD just change over to calling him that. :-)

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I mostly agree there, Pecman. I will say, though, that I once edited a story with four characters whose names started with D, but they were sufficiently different in names and character traits that it somehow worked. However, as a general rule, no, I wouldn't do something like that. (Hmm, two characters with rhyming names might work for twins or for starting a friendship, though.)

To me, a very unusual name is something you have to do carefully. Less is more. Only one or two highly unusual names for a story, and it likely will inform the character somehow. "Ben" (well, Benjamin) is my middle name. My first name and last name are unusual. String them all together, and it's long. Yet it wasn't intended to be odd.

Vwl is quite right about period historical names. People have gone through some names that were popular then but strange to us now. For historical fiction or science fiction or fantasy, though, those work well if done well.

For the particular story, I am considering Evan for one of them. I still haven't settled on the other. I did come across several that I'm holding in reserve. The two characters are proving hard to pin a name on, LOL. The characters are both your typical American teens, high school or early college age, with a couple of traits thrown in. For this story, I'm going for common names. For other stories, I will specifically have some non-English origin names, because you see a wider mix in most cities now, especially where I live, and because I see that way underrepresented in fiction.

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Hahaha, at this point, I'm tempted. I looked up by meanings, and thought I'd find something useful, but instead, mostly found girl's names and very foreign names which would seem too "out there" for most readers, and wouldn't really fit the characters, who are typically American. I see BehindTheName has added a lot of foreign-language names, which is great in itself, but which would surely puzzle most people looking up typical English-language names, either for their babies or for stories. It seems to need a filter or a category system to select from all or from a range. One simple thing I really, really wish they'd do is put the names in more than one column. Navigation between pagefuls could be improved too.

I knew I was in trouble when I briefly considered Loki....

I wonder, "Rumplestilskin?"

I tried paying attention to singer / musician's names running through my playlist today, but somehow, "Sting" or "Bono" or even "Sergei" don't quite do it. OK, so those aren't the best examples, but you get the problem there.

I've noticed I know a lot more guys named "Michael" or "Nick" or "James" or "Chris" than I thought.

Don't be surprised if they get named Thing1 and Thing2 after all. -- I'll be away on errands part of tomorrow. Maybe the distraction will clear out the slump.

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