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Names: people and places

Tigereye13

Active Member
Ok, this is something that might seem a bit odd but it is something that I struggle with in my writings: names. I can do world building along with character development but when it comes to naming a character or location I get stuck.

I do know about and try to use baby name books along with Behind the Name. But sometimes I just get overwhelmed with how many names there are to choose from or just can’t find the right name for a character. Though, I don’t know good places to look for Surnames.

The name will generally be one of the last things that I create for a character or place. I have written entire chapters of a story without names. I put brackets around descriptions of the character until I figure their name out (such as [Main character] did X, [werewolf co-worker] was able to smell what the mystery present was well before it was opened, [trainer] traveled to [town a] and rested at the Pokémon Center, etc.). Some characters are easier to name than others. My side characters tend to get names sometimes before my main characters. Locations are even harder, and I can never seem to figure out something that sounds right.

So, I was wondering if anyone might have some tips on how to name people and locations. Maybe an example of how you do it or things that you have heard from others that work.
 

JX Valentine

Ever-Discordant
When it comes to surnames, Behind the Name actually has a subpage dedicated to just that that you can use as a springboard. Really, though, it really depends on the ethnicity you're going for; a lot of them have separate websites that can be found via some Google digging (by searching for "[ethnicity] surnames"). This also has a massive list of all kinds of names, but it's particularly valuable if you're putting together surnames of specific ethnicities. (Its Japanese page, for example, has a section that breaks down common parts of surnames so that you can mix and match to get a meaning that you want.)

In general, when it comes to names, I do one of three things:

1. Go with a name I happen to like. (I have a character named Thom for no other reason than I just like the name Thom.)

2. Name a character after someone else. (Examples from my own fics: Veronica and Ellen are named after specific sci-fi characters; John is named after a real scientist.)

3. Choose the ethnicity first and then pick out what kind of meaning I want. That narrows things down considerably; the rest is just a matter of figuring out what I like best. (For example, I have a character named Riko. She's Japanese, so I needed a Japanese name. After that, I decided to name her after a flower because she was at one point a kimono girl, so I sifted through the list on Behind the Name until I found a flower name I liked.) If it's fanfiction, I cross-check with canon to make sure the name isn't already taken, and if the answer is no, then we're good. If the answer is yes, then I go back to the list and try again. It gets tedious, but.

Basically speaking, the third tip is just "set very specific search terms based on the character you want to create." The more specific, the better. It definitely requires a lot of thought about your own character to figure out what's appropriate for them.

As for place names, that's a bit easier simply because a lot of the time, either canon or human nature gives you default search terms. For example, when coming up with a place name in the Pokémon universe, canon gives you themes that you can match (if you need help to do so). Towns and cities in Kanto get named after colors, towns and cities in Johto get named after plants, and so forth. Alternatively, you just have to think about who settled the town and where it's located and then go from there. Example? Maybe the town was founded by French settlers who decided a spot by a lake was good enough to set up shop, so the town would probably be named something in French that has to do with the lake. Maybe the town was founded by highly religious English folk, so it'll probably have a Biblical name. Or maybe it was just founded by someone with a terrible sense of humor, and the town is named Nowhere.

So tl;dr, it really helps to have mental search terms. Think carefully about the people (both involved with naming the thing or the character's own personality) and set up very specific criteria before attempting to search for a name. It makes things so much less overwhelming because you already have a vague idea of what corners of the web to look at -- or at least because you block out a huge chunk of sites like BtN.
 

Crystal

The Pokemon Observer
For place names, try to figure out a "pattern". For example, cities and towns of Kanto of Pokemon World were all based on colors, Johto's cities and towns were all based on plants, Hoenn's were two words put together, Sinnoh's seems to indicates the most significant figure about the locations, Orange Archipelago were just like its name where each island was a certain type of citrus fruit.

For characters' names, I don't have a fixed rule. I just named the character with a name where the meaning fits their characteristic and doesn't sound too complicated. Just short: choose the name according to intuition, that's how I worked.

I don't know how you work, but just try to name something up rather than leave it open, because without a name for certain things may hinder the progress on story plotting.
 

Mrs. Lovett

Rolling writer
I used to have a similar problem. In fact, when I wrote ideas for stories, I'd just refer to characters as 'he' or 'she', or else substitute for any simple name that came to mind, like Bob or Jane. :p I think that's perfectly fine for a rough draft, since at that stage, you're concentrating more on the events and description. But names are certainly important, and add necessary color to your story.

The thing about names is that they can come from anywhere - movies you've seen, books you've read, or historical figures you know about. I used to rely heavily on name-list sites for characters, but eventually I got tired of them and started gathering names from other places. Those databases are one source of inspiration out of many. To start, it helps to know at least what kind of name you're looking for. Is it a plain name? An unusual name? A name that has some sort of significance for the character's personality or fate?

Once you've laid down the criteria, you'll be able to look in the right places.

If you're just looking for a name you like, then think about what you like. If you want a mythological-sounding name, then search up mythologies. And don't be afraid to spend some time looking: think about what names you can list off the top of your head and see if any of them stick. Think about the last movie you saw, or the last book you've read. If you can't remember, then read something again. The most important thing you can do to help yourself is giving yourself exposure to names, both plain and exotic. I often use temporary designations for characters until I can find one that's a better fit.

I don't usually attach any symbolic meaning to my character's names, though some writers like to do this. Usually, when I create a character, their name automatically suggests itself to me -- maybe it's a name I like, or one I've encountered before and just thought of, etc. If I need help, then I'll visit a name-database site to jog my imagination.

Last names are a slightly different procedure for me. I often don't attach significance to those either, but it feels nice to find one that's unique, instead of sticking in something random. I use name-lists more often for these, and take into consideration what sounds good with the character's first name. You can search for last names by nationality, if you want a specific sound.

'Making it up' is your last and best option. Sometimes, it's exactly the thing you need, but the amount of time it involves may vary. Your name can be a hybrid of two regular names, a noun-derived name... anything you want. I've done it before, but I can't give you an exact recount of the procedure any more than I can tell you exactly how an idea forms in the mind. Just start in any way you want... maybe from a first letter, or a first sound, and go from there.



All this is analogous for naming locations. Again, the key is exposure. There are a lot of places in the world, and a lot of interesting names for streets, towns, and parks. Think of some of the names that appear in the Pokemon canon -- Lake of Rage. Bewilder Forest. Some of them are simple, but still evoke powerful feelings. The town names are endlessly creative as well, and look better than would a region filled with Main Streets and Park Squares. I once read somewhere that each region has its own theme -- Kanto was colors, but beyond that I don't remember. I think that would be fun to try. (Edit; you beat me to it, Crystal.)
 
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Skiyomi

Only Mostly Dead
As has already been mentioned, there are a lot of great naming websites out there that you can narrow down pretty nicely by ethnicity, gender and meaning. And when I say a lot, I mean a lot. A short time ago I was going to have a character have a guinea pig (non-Pokemon fic) and I was having kind of a block of what to name it. So I Google searched "Guinea Pig Names" just for the heck of it, not expecting to find anything, and you know what? I found a great list. I went with "Nougat" by the way. Because all guinea pig names should imply that their owner is considering eating them.

Websites are the main thing I use, but another great way to collect great first and last names is simply to pay attention when you're watching the credits at the end of something. Everytime I watch the credits I pay attention to the names and how the combination of some first and last names sound.
 

Diddy

Renegade
another great way to collect great first and last names is simply to pay attention when you're watching the credits at the end of something. Everytime I watch the credits I pay attention to the names and how the combination of some first and last names sound.
This, because hilariously, it works, even if you're just reading through the names casually. Eventually, when you least expect it, a name will come to you in the back of your head that seems completely nonsensical, but works.

Two characters of mine for example, one was called Zaniah, I had no idea where it came from, but after careful thinking I remembered that it was the name (or a spelling variation) of an OC gym leader in a fic I had read ages beforehand. Another is called Nariko, whose name just happens to be that of the Heavenly Sword protaginist, a game I had not seen in a long time. Coincidentally, she was announced as a playable character for Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale not soon after I had thought of the name xD

Jax has it right, just think of the ethnicity and use what you know. There aren't many japanese people called Phil Jones or Terry Smith, nor are there many British people called Nanami Mashima. Names will come eventually.

Just don't make them too pretentious or special. That usually turns people away from a fic.
 

Firebrand

Indomitable
Truth to tell, most of my names come from crashing a couple syllables together and seeing how things sound. At least to me, meaningful names quickly become tedious and I've never really put much stock in them. However, I do recommend looking at the mythologies and folklore of ancient cultures, especially if you want exotic-sounding names. For example, in the story I'm currently working on, the names of most of the werewolves are taken from the names of Odin, to give them a bit of a northern/Scandinavian flavor. If you want female name, look at the names of Greek nymphs, and I know Egyptian deities used many aliases. If you want a bit more commonplace names, pay attention to the people you meet in day to day life. Peruse your facebook friends list, or look at a theatrical playbill.

Places can be a little more difficult. What I normally do is look up the names of towns/landmarks/places that are similar culturally to the place I'm writing about (so for example, if I wanted to make up a fictitious New England town like I did last year, I just payed attention to the signs along the highway). But you may have to break out your atlas for this one. So if it's a germanic or celtic culture, look up the names of old towns around where those kinds of people settled.
 

Sid87

I love shiny pokemon
I will cop to being AWFUL with naming things (You'll notice none of my chapters have names when I write anything, and if I thought I could get away with it, I wouldn't name my stories themselves, either!). It's definitely one of the things I'm the worst at (as well as pacing and editing and description and... oh, I could get sidetracked all day). That said, let me give you a few of the ideas I find helpful to stop myself from just making up stupid-sounding names. :)

1) Use homages to something you are interested in!
-A lot of my characters, especially background or side characters, are named after either sports figures or comic book characters. I wrote an entire [extremely] brief History Of The World in one chapter of Brothers' Bond, and every Premier or Prime Minister I mentioned was named after a member of the Green Lantern Corps. My main character is named Sam Stark, Sam for Supernatural (because he is the younger brother in a story about two siblings; that one was a little TOO obvious, in retrospect) and Stark because I felt like an Iron Man send up at the moment.

2) Babelfish!
-Especially useful for making up names of places or other things that don't have a problem sounding extremely foreign. Just plug in what the thing you're naming means thematically, and find a boss translation for it. I named two cities in an original story of mine Bestefar (some language's equivalent to grandfather; it's the city where one of my protagonist's grandfather lives) and another, Brillaire (means light or brightness; the city is home to The Church Of The Holy Light). I've done this for naming pokemon in BB, as well (Chispa, a Shinx, is named for a translation of spark; Vlam, a Ninetales, is named for a translation of flame).

3) Look up names that aren't in circulation so much these days!
-Baby Name books are good for this, ESPECIALLY since they almost always include info as to what the name MEANS, and this can help you assign meaning to peoples' names. In my aforementioned original fantasy series, most of my characters' names are Biblical (a lot of fun, weird names in there). You can use names from mythology and "modernize" them (or just leave them as is; weird names are often the most memorable, and you may inspire your reader to look them up and learn something).

4) Name them after people you know!
-Even (especially?) if they are people you only know in passing or just briefly in your life. Name them after people that have similar traits to the character you're thinking of. That way the character will stay extra vibrant and life-like in your mind. It really makes describing them a lot easier, I find.

I hope any of those help. They're what I use, anyway. :)
 
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