Monday, March 3, 2008

What's in a name?

Character names can make or break a story. I personally have had instances where a story wouldn't flow because a character name just didn't sound right, and yet I couldn't find a better alternative. Like a story title, a character name sets up a mood -- a jaded man, a sweet but vulnerable woman, a bitchy coworker who blames everyone else for a mistake while sounding sugar sweet to those who hold some power.

One approach in finding character names is trolling name generator sites until something just "hits". My personal favorites are Sevent Sanctum ( and Serendipity ( . Warning -- could be a big time waster!! You can generate first names, last names or combination of both, male and female, until something hits right. Baby naming sites, sites depicting popular names by culture or country can work well here as well -- this is how I found names for my characters in Sexsomiaic.

Another approach I've recently stumbled upon involves SPAM. No - not the kind you eat, the kind that clogs up your inbox with offers of blue magic pills, miracle diets and business offers that you simply can't refuse -- just send them your name and Social Security.

The names that appear as the sender could be great starting points to character names and personality sketches if we're willing to sift through our bulk folder. A few examples from my own : Shelly Marino - maybe a female NY cop with attitude a mile long and a soft spot for chocolate ice cream .Perry Poole - doesn't he just sound like a bespeckled older gentleman who may just have a dark side? Jan Oneill, John Deleon, Ellen Wells, Jim Crowe...

Next time a character name eludes you, you may just find the answer no further then your own spam box.

Of course, it'll mean looking at clever subject lines such as - You Grow, She'll Blow.


BarbaraK said...

Most times because I write Science Fiction I usually use a name generator.

Barbara K.

Lena Austin said...

I just use a baby name book. I've marked some unusual names with a highlighter so I can find them again.

Names with a hard sound, like Kathy often are "harder" characters. Softer sounds like Shelly are often used with "weaker" or softer characters.

LesleyW said...

I've used baby name books.

For first names I quite like biblical names.

Oh I also have an Angel book with hundreds of Angel names in.

Belinda said...

I tend to use the phone books a lot, or look back in yearbooks. Haven't tried a name generator, but it seems like a good option for fantasy and sci fi.


Cassandra Gold said...

I generally use baby name sites.

Thanks for the two random generators. Now I'm sure I will be spending hours randomly generating things. If there's a time waster available, I'm going to waste time with it!

Cat Marsters/Kate Johnson said...

I'm with you there, Lena, on the harder/softer names. For instance, I named a character Reaver, because he was a loner demon hunter and I wanted something that sounded violent, almost sinister, for him.

I also once gave a pair of characters the surnames Green and Sharpe, because one was very naive and inexperienced, and the other very astute and often acerbic.

You can't do that all the time of course, or you start coming over all Dickensian, but it is fun!