What’s in a name?

Naming fictional characters is fun, and a pain at the same time. Writing short fiction can really burn through names, but there are times I don't use them at all. In The Enhanced League, I'm having to come up with a lot of names.

I've used the Major League Baseball rosters for names in the past, but had to look elsewhere for names in these tales, because they are baseball stories. I never use someone's whole name, but sometimes a ball player's last name works for me.

The fact is that I'm parked on a great source for names, and can't use them. These are family members, and even if they've passed on, their children haven't. Some of these names have a lot of character, and that helps in fiction. (Some of the actual people were quite the characters themselves.)

Check some of these out. I'll drop the last name where appropriate, because it doesn't matter anyway.

Price David XXX was my grandfather. He went by Turk his entire life. (No Turkish blood in the family) Without ever knowing the man, there is some character already there.

My other grandfather was Hiram Sterling XXX. He went by Sterling.

I have a cousin named Tyna. It isn't pronounced Teena either. It catches the eye, and is interesting.

Gwladys was my grandmother. She Americanized it to Gladys after she immigrated here from Wales. Interesting side note, she came here on the Carpathia the year before it rescued survivors of the Titanic Disaster. Americanizing your name is interesting without writing a single word being written.

Ralph Edward XXX was a great uncle. He was the first born in a large family. Someone early on called him the little chap. He was Uncle Chappie his entire life. It's interesting.

Leonard Byron XXX went by Snuffy.

How about some of these; Charles Wellington XXX, Fred Niemeyer XXX, Thomas Harrington XXX, Walter Eddison XXX. They just have a nice ring to them. Walter Eddison was a polio survivor and one of the greatest characters I've ever known. He did like so many others, and named his firstborn after himself, but Junior was never used. He's always been Little Ed, and still is at about sixty odd years old.

Speaking of Uncle Ed, many folks in my family go by their middle names. Aside from my grandfather, Stella Phyllis XXX, Price Douglas XXX. I think going by the middle name also is intriguing. It might not be first page stuff, but it makes fictional characters interesting.

A similar relative was Clarence Lee XXX, he went by Sonny.

My other grandmother was Thelma Irene XXX. That just sounds so 1920s to me. It's an old name that gets no love these days. She was quite the character herself.

How about a great aunt named Coila Leona XXX. She went by Coila, and I've never heard the name before or since.

I'll throw in a family friend too. Her name was Agatha, only she didn't pronounce it like you might think. She insisted on Ah-gay-tha.

There you have it. A great list of names that are off limits to me. In a fictional setting, not every character can be a hero, and even heroes need flaws. Someone, somewhere, would complain that I painted their mother, brother, dad, etc. in a bad light. They might believe I thought poorly of those people, and I loved them to be honest. So these names are on my no-fly-list.

You can use them, I just can't. If you want a vampire named Thelma, or an axe murderer named Chappie, have at it.

I think it's interesting when people go by their middle name. I also think it's interesting when people go by nicknames. Without writing a single word, there is a tidbit of something in the character. It's interesting when people Americanize their name too.

On a personal note, this was an interesting exercise for me. Apparently I come from a long line of characters, and some of them were pretty over the top. Think about it, my grandparents were Turk, Thelma, Gladys, and Sterling.

So how about it you guys? Do you consider family names off limits? Do you think names are intriguing? Does the nuance of a name help when you write a character? What's your favorite source of fictional names? Do you like name generators? Talk to me.


Filed under Writing

55 responses to “What’s in a name?

  1. Oh yeah, I could never use a family name as a character. Gwladys. That sounds like one for Elmer Fudd.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have some characters in my background too. It’s interesting learning their story when I research the family tree. You have some great names here.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Names are hard for me. When so make them up they always sound stilted and wrong. I love the ones you have compiled here. They all sound reasonable and interesting. You would think with all of the names I see every day that I could come up with some cool stuff but no.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I don’t use family names but have used a few from people I’ve known. I think your family has a lot of unique names. In my family the naming convention was first male got the first name of his father. The middle name was that of the paternal grandmother’s maiden name. The second male got the first name of the brother of the father. If no brother then grandfather on mother’s side first name. Middle name was the last name of Maternal grandfather. First daughter got first name of maternal grandmother and middle name of paternal grandmother. Since our family only had three kids at the max for each couple no further rules were needed. Long story short all males in my family had a first name of John, Robert, William, or James. All females were named Barbara, Nancy, Kathleen, or Linda. Not too much to play with there.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I LOVE naming characters! It’s probably my favorite part of starting a new project, but for the most part, I steer away from family names and the names of people I know. It feels too weird for me as the name always conjures the person I know and not the character.

    I’ve played around with name generators but I usually just go for the baby naming sites (unless I have a name already stored away in a collection). I like baby naming sites that let me hone in on popular names for specific time periods.

    Odd that you should bring up names as their giving me grief in my current WIP, and I’ve found myself renaming several characters. I guess they know who they are better than I do.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Never considered a name off limits before. I think I have one that stems from a story I’d rather not get into in public. (Sorry). I use a baby name book and a site that has first and last names. I’ve always loved the meaning of names and tend to seek out those that either fit or inspire a character. To be honest, I’ve had so many shelved stories over the years that I can’t remember which names I’ve used, ignored, or wasted. So it’s become more of a challenge to find them.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Gi love this post Craig. Thanks for sharing. Names come form all over for me. An attendant at the petrol station was called Lovemore, hence the name for the wiley fox in my first fable type story – Lovemore Flynn.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I would steer clear of family names. I have used a close friend’s name, but slightly altered the surname.
    I also use era-specific name lists when necessary as well as a random name generator where you can specify several elements that you want the name to conform to.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My next projects will have less named characters, so it will be easier. I find myself only naming enough to tell the story. For example, I don’t want to name every player on my fictional baseball team, when I only need three or four to tell the tale.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. carmens007

    Great topic! Thanks for sharing your technique in choosing your characters’ names.
    I also use names of family members, either alive or in the stars’ world, for my characters. These characters even have traits of those people. Not always.
    In Shadows of the Past I also used allegorical names for a couple of the characters. For example, Sister Clementa was ironically the name of a cruel, vicious woman.
    One thing my editor taught me – to avoid having main characters with the same starting letter in the story ( Angela, April, Alicia). She says it may confuse the reader. I do my best to follow her advice.
    On the other hand, for authenticity, I try to find names that are used in the epoch and country described in my book.
    I found a couple of useful places with names generators. If interested, you can find them on my blog at Useful author resources – entry 82 and 83.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. carmens007

    I pushed the post comment button and forgot to add something.
    It’s true that Shakespeare, the great bard, says “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
    And yet, sometimes, we can’t simply call a Roman Emperor Ekene- which is an African name, or a Chinese character Hedviga – that is a Czech one!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve used name generators a lot in my fantasy roleplaying career – I also hung out a lot on Hiswelókë, the Tolkien Sindarin/Noldorin dictionary site a lot for odd nicknames for elves…
    I love how names go in and out of fashion as well – like Thelma Irene. My Dad was Ronald Thomas Garfield XXXX – that’s going into something sometime or other! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Like you, I encounter lots of cool names at work. Thing is, they’re all school kids and I can’t use them. But I do borrow single names from time to time.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I think our character’s names can come from anywhere and I’m definitely not above using family names. A funny thing though, my characters usually tell me who they are. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. I am always careful not to have two names close to the same in a story. So, I go for different letters of the alphabet and make a list so I know who I have. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I’ve got such a large family that avoiding using their names would severely limit me. I’m careful about doing so though, especially with still living family members. Luckily, so far, nonoe of myfamily who I’ve used the names of have had a problem with it. Mind you, most of them have been my pets, who don’t really care what I do, as long as they get attention and treats. But I have used names of some family members who are human too.

    The main consideration for me is that the name feels right for the character, and has some meaning that works for the character, whether that means the character is called Toby, or Saarik, or whatever. I love sites where you can look up name origins and meanings, as well as name generators. It was a name generator that gave me Saarik’s name, for example… He’s named after a tkind of bird (I found the name when Googling nature themed names to use for him).

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I find character names all over the place. I’ve used name generators, baby books, phone listings, sports team rosters, film credits, and people I know personally. I have a series loosely inspired by my Italian roots, and I use a lot of family names in that one, just as a nod to my history. But I’d never make a family member’s name be an evil character. That’s just asking for trouble.

    I have a lot of family members who went by nicknames. (For that matter, many people in my hometown went by nicknames.) Uncle Lundy, Uncle Bo, Uncle Funnyman, Uncle Yammi, and Uncle Sivvy. My dad’s nickname is Smitty (which makes sense, as he’s a Smith, but there are seven of them and he’s the only one with that name). My father in law’s nickname is Imperial. My grandfather’s was Columbus. Hubby had an Uncle Flip. Had an Uncle Tony whose son has been Little Tony for fifty years. Other funny hometown nicknames: Pete Alphabet, Nutty, Nuts, Puffy… The list is nearly endless. One of these days, I think I’m going to write a story with all these nicknames instead of real names. It kind of defines the town.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Those family names are FAR more interesting than any in my own family. That’s pretty neat.
    I do think it matters. I sometimes read things where the name just doesn’t fit the character and it’s harder to delve into those books.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Not knowing many of my family members who’ve passed I could use their names. None have living relatives. I already have used my dogs and one cat who’ve crossed the rainbow bridge as a way to tribute them. You just gave me a great idea. I have a family Bible that dates back to the 1600’s that I might turn to for names in a pinch. Thanks, Craig!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Sometimes I’ve googled most popular names of the year in order to pick names for the protagonist and other important characters. I figured people can relate easier to characters with the same name or with a name they’re familiar with. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Great post. I use the name generator tool in Scrivener sometimes if I need a name of a certain ethnicity. It’s funny that you mentioned baseball rosters. I just read a Lee Child novel in which Jack Reacher has resorted to using good 2nd basemen from the Yankees from years when they didn’t come in first place as his aliases.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. I used my father-in-law’s name (with a spelling change) for the main character in a short story I’m trying to get published. He’s pretty laid back, and I like his name for an Indonesian space admiral.

    My wife and I have talked about what we’ll name our kids in the next few years. If they’re boys, we’ll use old Scandinavian family names from my side, like Gustaf or Adolf (OK, not that one, because some jerk from Austria ruined it). I wonder if people will think it’s weird to see an Asian guy named Gustaf? If they’re girls, we’ll use names from Greek mythology (my wife’s name is Greek in origin.)

    Liked by 1 person

  21. The maddest name in my lot is Fancourt. My maiden surname was Fancourt Bell … Yeh.

    When it comes to character names they tend to just pop into my head. For all others I use road signs. On the journey to McOther’s parents, alone, we have Leighton Bronswold, Carlton Scrope, Kirk Deighton and many more which I’m not telling you because I haven’t used them yet! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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