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Character names - Where do you find yours?

Capt Zapp

I remember a while back there was a discussion about character names, but I can't seem to find it.

I decided to do a search for missing persons which gave me a decent list, including under what conditions the person disappeared (Maybe a good for alien abduction story characters?).

Then I thought about victims of disasters
difficult to identify (I.E. a badly decomposed body, severely burned body, etc. One record I read had people being identified by a 'unique stitch used to mend a tear' and the way a shoe was buttoned).
not enough left to make positive ID (chemical/refinery explosion? 'I found a foot')
never found (sea disasters? how many never recovered from Titanic?)

Then there are the ones that are never claimed (unknowns who end up in a mass grave).

I figure as long as you don't used a recent disaster, the names can work, especially if the story is about a way the person 'could' have survived if an outside entity had taken them elsewhere/when.

Thoughts?

CZ

Crumbly Writer

@Capt Zapp

Name combinations are the most interesting, and you don't pick those up by using Census data. Thus when I travel and meet new people in parks, restaurants or bars, I'll pick up personal histories which I might be able to incorporate, along with interesting name combinations that sound more interesting and more natural than straight names from lists. Another source are local newspaper articles, especially concerning local sports (high school and college aged) or local hires of young people.

It sounds like, using disaster like you considered, you'll end up with names like "Peter Foote" or "Ed Forearm". 'D

Replies:   Capt Zapp
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

Genealogy research is another good source. Two names that used to be well used but you wouldn't expect them to be used as first names are; Major, and Lieutenant. One person I found was a Major Mountain (real name) shared with several generations in the Mountain family.

edit to add: The family is from England and not all that long ago.

Replies:   Lugh  Capt Zapp
Lugh

@Ernest Bywater

One of the planners for the Son Tay POW rescue raid was a lieutenant colonel Thomas Minor, USAF. Logically, at some point, he must have been Major Minor.

In current matters, I do use historical people, and hope the prologue disclaimer will do for the sex lives of most -- as opposed to JFK or LBJ, who probably would have done a female alligator if she would hold still.

rustyken

If it is fiction why not create the names yourself. There are loads of sites listing first names by language or ethnic group. The same is true for last names. So roll your own.

Cheers

Replies:   Capt Zapp
Capt Zapp

@Crumbly Writer

It sounds like, using disaster like you considered, you'll end up with names like "Peter Foote" or "Ed Forearm". 'D


I was actually referring to the list of victim names.

I believe Niven used first-names with skills for last names. "I'd give anything to find a Jak FTLsystems aboard."

Capt Zapp

@Ernest Bywater

I worked with a man named Colonel.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Capt Zapp

I worked with a man named Colonel.


There are also people whose family name is Major, and another named Majors. I often toy with messing with the names a new officer in the US Army being Lieutenant Major. There's so much you can do with names from the 16th, 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, especially if you mix them up just a little.

Replies:   sejintenej
Ernest Bywater

On a slight sidestep, I never did find out why he never put the story in his book, but one of Dad's favorite stories from WW2 was when he was in Brisbane on leave from the islands one time, he was a Lance Corporal, but someone made a typo and he got promoted in transit. he left the 133 AGT as L/Cpl Bywater and arrived in Brisbane as L/Col Bywater and they thought he was a Lieutenant Colonel on leave, so he had a good time by having a mate assigned as his driver and their own jeep to get about in, but not the pay to go with it.

Replies:   Capt Zapp
Capt Zapp

@rustyken

If it is fiction why not create the names yourself. There are loads of sites listing first names by language or ethnic group. The same is true for last names. So roll your own.


I find the idea of giving some of the victims a 'second life' appealing. Kind of like the rescues in the book/movie "Millennium" by John Varley.

And using real (or very similar) victim names and actual disasters can pique an interest in said disaster. How many people actually know about things like the Pemberton Mill Collapse of 1860 (90 dead/missing) or the New London School Explosion of 1937 (301 dead) or the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 (146 Dead)?

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Capt Zapp

@Ernest Bywater

so he had a good time by having a mate assigned as his driver and their own jeep to get about in, but not the pay to go with it.


I can see how that might happen since the 'O' is right next to 'P' a typist (especially on the old manual machines) could easily have hit both 'O' and 'P' at the same time and the 'O' made it to the paper first.

Sometimes the benefit is worth more than the money. As the commercial says: "A Jeep with your mate as the driver? Priceless"

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater

@Capt Zapp

Sometimes the benefit is worth more than the money.


That's how dad saw it, but he also said having the pay to go with it would've been good, too.

Ernest Bywater

@Capt Zapp

I find the idea of giving some of the victims a 'second life' appealing


You could go one step further and use an older disaster in a remote area with some characters as the children of the missing people. Kind of like what happened with the Bounty mutineers.

Replies:   Capt Zapp
Capt Zapp

@Ernest Bywater

You could go one step further and use an older disaster in a remote area with some characters as the children of the missing people. Kind of like what happened with the Bounty mutineers.


That is an idea if I use a sea or remote location disaster. For my current story I just pulled one name from a fire where the victims were identified in a weak way and used one of the 'unclaimed/unidentified' women as another. In addition, I got a third name from a list of 'unsolved disappearances' of the 20th century. I changed the spelling of one last name and that of the first name for the other. Since the third was a never identified body, I made up a name that could fit in with the victims.

richardshagrin

There are a lot of "General" names although mostly things, rather than people. General Discussion, General Principles, General Mills, General Hospital, and the ever popular General Motors. And maybe to confuse things, Major Generals, Lieutenant Generals, and General of the Army (five stars). Admirals are even stranger. Rear Admiral comes is two flavors, lower half and upper half, (07 equivalent of Brigadier General and O8 equivalent of a Major General. Not to get anal about it. And then Vice Admiral which has less to do with Vice than you might think.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@richardshagrin

Not to get anal about it. And then Vice Admiral which has less to do with Vice than you might think.

Vice Admiral Major Vice? Could lead to a fascinating lead character.

tppm
Updated:

@Capt Zapp

One way to do that and avoid possible problems with survivors and/or descendants would be to mix and match the names, take one person's first name and another's last, for instance.

And, of course there's the old standby of baby name books.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@tppm

And, of course there's the old standby of baby name books.

Baby name sites (there are dozens, and they're better than the printed books because they've got more names, as well as featuring more nationalities) are great if you want to pick a name which means something (you search by meaning, chose the best fitting name, and go from there--no one not from that nation will recognize it, but still, it gives you a better feel for the character). However, it deprives you of the 'natural language feel' of actual names, where parents naturally pick names that work well together, but which is hard to accomplish by looking at lists.

I actually prefer lists of local government hires in the local newspaper because you get more natural name combinations.

REP

If my character is a specific ethnic group, I use the respective ethnic name list for last name and pick something easy for a first name.

Another alternative is the phone book. Open it at random and pick 5 different female and male first names. Open it at random and pick a last name from each page, and repeat 5 times to get 10 last names.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@REP

I think it was Ernest who suggested picking names alphabetically to eliminate similar names (i.e. those that begin with the same letter). Does anyone else do that, and if not, how often do you encounter somewhat confusing names?

I've sometimes had to go back, after a story was written, and change a few duplicate names. In one story, I had to change three different minor characters because of duplicate first or last names.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Clee_Hill

FWIW I try to find names that are reflective of some aspect or another of my characters.

But I'm also careful if taking the name of someone famous (e.g., Pascal) that I don't clone the original character as there are limits to how far nominative determinism should be allowed to go before shattering the boundaries of believability.

Outside of that, I often take surnames from placenames or the news, and forenames from the more obscure end of name lists because, well, I'm like that.

Clee

doores

To help with names I found a computer program that generates them and you just choose one you like. Its called name generator v. 1.0 from Ambulocetus entertainment.

Doores

Crumbly Writer

@Crumbly Writer

I think it was Ernest who suggested picking names alphabetically to eliminate similar names (i.e. those that begin with the same letter). Does anyone else do that, and if not, how often do you encounter somewhat confusing names?

Someone suggested linking names so make character relationships clearer (ex: Bre dates Barry, David is married to Diane, Mary is having an affair with Manuel).

While it may eliminate some character confusion, it may not produce the most distinctive names (especially if you limit yourself to standard, rather than the more esoteric, names).

In writing a story about a disruptive 3-way relationship, I'm evaluating using a few ... traditional names: Dawn (instead of Eve), Adrian (instead of Adam) and Lil (instead of Lillith) to help paint their respective roles. I'm not sure whether that would help or hinder the story.

Replies:   sejintenej
slutsarah

One thing I found is that there is good information on childrens' first names on the UK Govenment web site. I managed to download a list of the most popular UK girls names from 1988 for example. This also allows you to set the name most appropriate to the age of the character.

Sarah

sejintenej

@Ernest Bywater

I often toy with messing with the names a new officer in the US Army being Lieutenant Major

Lieutenant Major is a real (retired) UK Navy officer whose existence was denied by the US Navy when he was working with them - a story elsewhere

sejintenej

In the previous thread on this subject I mentioned teldir.com (TELephone DIRectory)which leads to another site which itself has telephone directories from all over the world. As someone pointed out that would allow an author to get appropriate ethnic names

sejintenej

@Crumbly Writer

if not, how often do you encounter somewhat confusing names?

Maria is a potentially confusing one - there is one series - Florida Friends - with two (or is it three) such. In a not associated story the PC explains to his woman that because it is so common, in the Phillipines nick names are used instead.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@sejintenej

Maria is a potentially confusing one - there is one series - Florida Friends - with two (or is it three) such.

In my "Catalyst" series, after introducing around 50 characters, I decided to have some fun and introduced a younger character with the same name "Alex", who every took to calling "the other Alex" (actually since he was gay it was often "the gay Alex). It was fun, but highlighted the difficulty with similar names.

Dicrostonyx

@Capt Zapp

I remember a while back there was a discussion about character names, but I can't seem to find it.


I found two old threads on the subject in case you want to browse through them:

http://storiesonline.net/d/s2/t258/where-do-you-get-your-characters-names

http://storiesonline.net/d/s2/t1043/where-to-find-character-names

...

Recently, I've started writing again, and since the stories currently on the go are both modern I'm relying on lists of common names. I found a great resource at http://www.studentsoftheworld.info/penpals/stats.php3. This is not a statistical analysis of the most common names in the world, but in their pen-pal database of 434k people. So while it's tilted, it is interesting and useful.

The site also has some other statistics on their members, including hobbies, languages, and ages. Since the average age range is mid-teens to early 20's, that means that these names are good choices for modern protagonists rather than being the most popular baby names today, which may not have been as common when your characters were born.

Replies:   sejintenej
sejintenej

@Dicrostonyx

I found a great resource at http://www.studentsoftheworld.info/penpals/stats.php3. This is not a statistical analysis of the most common names in the world,

I do have to wonder; the most common girl's name in the register for Mongolia is Lucy!
In Bosnia #6 is Poop. I'd love to see what author would call his/her principal girl Poop!

Crumbly Writer

@sejintenej

I'd love to see what author would call his/her principal girl Poop!

Obviously, since she's a girl, they (the parents) would have to modify it slightly to "Poopie". :D

Now I'll have to research the etymological origins of the name "Poop".

Replies:   sejintenej
red61544

I think the easiest solution is to do what WTSman does - call all of your protagonists "George". It works for him and also for George Foreman. We could have a site in which the main character of every story is named George! A few stories would require "Georgina" but that works, too. Of course, we'd have to rename the site "George Online" or GOL for short.

sejintenej
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer

(I'd love to see what author would call his/her principal girl Poop!)


Obviously, since she's a girl, they (the parents) would have to modify it slightly to "Poopie".


The original source has it as "Poop" which evidently is the name the girl actually registered. Presumably it has a different meaning in their language and culture just as an old lady in Manila could be called Baby to distinguish her from all the other Marias

Worse still, in an English speaking European country the #6 girl's name is 'godsway'

Dicrostonyx

@sejintenej

I do have to wonder; the most common girl's name in the register for Mongolia is Lucy!
In Bosnia #6 is Poop.


Given that there are only 14 members from Bosnia, I suspect that's just a joke. The Mongolia one I could make a somewhat educated guess about, though.

For the past couple of generations, many people from the upper classes in Pacific Rim nations, especially China and Vietnam, have been given both a traditional name and a Western one. If the Western one is given by the parents it is usually chosen as you would any other name, with more emphasis on sound than meaning, but when the person chooses their own Western name, usually upon immigration, they often choose something that sounds similar to their actual name.

Thus, a woman with the name Lieu (Lee-oo) will take names like Lou or Lucy, Zhang and Jing will often be Jean, and so on.

I just looked up common Mongolian names. Most of the names on that penpal list are obviously Westernised. The five most common girls' names in Mongolia, according to wikipedia, are: Altantsetseg, Oyuunchimeg, Bolormaa, Enkhtuyaa, and Lkhagvasüren.

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Crumbly Writer

@Dicrostonyx

Most of the names on that penpal list are obviously Westernised. The five most common girls' names in Mongolia, according to wikipedia, are: Altantsetseg, Oyuunchimeg, Bolormaa, Enkhtuyaa, and Lkhagvasüren.

And again, that's the danger of using social media membership lists as a name source, since they're often unintentionally biased, whereas census forms typically aren't (since they ask the native and not the Americanized name).

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