Problems naming things

Hi Gang, Craig here today with a little confession to make. I hate naming things. This can be almost any form, I’m just not comfortable with names. This can be countries, planets, characters, ships, whatever.

Sometimes I feel like I did okay. I think the name, Lisa Burton, suits my robotic personal assistant and spokesmodel.

I’m pretty content with the name of the pirate ship in my current project. Lanternfish has a fair ring to it, and it’s kind of a vicious creature too.

Others, I hide in the corner and hope the names are acceptable to my reading audience. In fact, the main character in The Yak Guy Project has no name at all. Hey, it worked for Clint Eastwood movies.

My character, Clovis, from The Playground, never got a last name. It didn’t stop him from being a pretty popular character with my readers.

I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way. I’m going to share a few things with you guys… and maybe you can share a few with me.

First, there are all kinds of lists online. There are baby names for every ethnicity, and also lists of popular names by year. I used one of these when I chose Patty Hall. Patty was a popular name in the 1960s when she would have been born. I wanted a pretty “vanilla” name for this character to help sell her character growth. No special snowflake type name for this girl.

I’m not providing lists here today. It’s 2018, and I assume you have some google experience. There are bunches of these things, and a list would actually be counter productive.

I even found one of nearly-extinct names. My own grandmothers names are nearly gone from living memory. Thelma and Gladys…

Another favorite of mine is the Major League Baseball roster of players. Some of these guys have awesome names. Come on, Madison Bumgarner??? The trick here is to spot a few you like, then mix and match. Daydream a bit, and maybe you can salvage a first or last name. Bonus with MLB, there are ethnic names galore here too, Kenta Maeda anyone.

I have no doubt that other sports could provide something similar. I still have a program from my daughter’s high school graduation, and find it pretty helpful.

I also discovered something on my own. There are some words you can add to other words, then chew them over as possible names. Here is a list, that probably should get expanded at some point:

• Wood

• Stone

• Branch

• Tree

• Twig

I’m going to look out my back door where my peaches are growing. Possible names: Peachwood, Fruitwood, there is even such a thing as Peachstone. Frankie is out there too, perhaps Dogwood, or Wolfstone. Okay, there is something already called a dogwood, and I admit she doesn’t make much of a wolf.

Frankie

These aren’t great names, but it’s a basis to work from. I’ll grant you these may be better suited to a fantasy story.

Granted, you can add land to a country or city, like Fruitland. I could use a few more tail-words for this concept.

What other lists can we piece together in the comments? I’d like a few tail-words for science fiction, paranormal, and just the real world. I keep living documents, and would like to build one for naming of places, things, and people.

46 thoughts on “Problems naming things

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  4. I really enjoy naming people and places. In my day job (real estate) I’ve had the pleasure of coming up with new home community names and naming streets within those communities. It’s pretty cool to see a name I dreamed up on a street sign.

    I recently purchased a book of 100,000 baby names. I wanted something I could dog ear, highlight and mark up. When you think about it, we need to name everything from characters, towns, and locations (in our books) to businesses, restaurants, local attractions and more. I love the creation process!

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  5. Sometimes the name comes first for me, Craig, or is a real person in history. Sometimes I struggle to think of a name and then I ask my mom [smile]. She has great name ideas.

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  6. Person names aren’t as hard for me as place names. There’s a family business that figures prominently in my trilogy and even though I’ve written drafts of each of the books (over the last 2 years) I STILL can’t think of a name I like. I’ll probably just wind up going with the lame placeholder name I chose while I was waiting for something better to occur to me. Glad I’m not the only one who struggles.

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  7. For old or unique names, I take a pad and pen and walk through cemeteries. I find surnames there,too. Sometimes, I pay attention to the names of all of the people listed at the ends of movies–the cameramen, costume designers, etc. For other character names, I use date of birth lists, name meanings, and popular names from whatever country they’re from. I’m not so good with names of places. If there’s something unique about the area, I usually go with that–like Three Rivers or River Bluffs. For a fantasy I wrote about an island, I named it Verdanta because it wa so lush and green. Your methods sound good to me, but I think choosing the right name is just tricky. They have to feel right.

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    • Someone else mentioned cemeteries, and that’s a great idea. I never thought about movie credits, but some of those even have nicknames attached, and that can add a bit of color too. Great idea.

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  8. Choosing names for my characters is one of the most fun parts of writing for me. I’m always jotting down names that I come across – unusual names that sound like a character. Then I always have a list to refer to. Thanks for sharing, Craig.

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  9. I agonize over names. Neither of my children had names until the day we took them home from the hospital. (I wanted to be sure they were “just right” and apparently more than 40 weeks of waiting hadn’t been enough time to decide.)

    I won’t bore everyone with the places I get names, but I did want to say I love the idea of a prefix/root word/suffix way of making new names. (Son is an obvious suffix that comes to mind.) Great post, Craig.

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  10. My books are mostly set in the south (the North Carolina mountains and central Florida) so I have become very familiar with long lists of southern names, both first names and surnames. (Not to mention my own lists of names garnered from a lifetime of southern acquaintances.) It’s especially fun for secondary characters when you can get as quirky as you want without making your main character sound silly.

    I also pay attention to whether my character’s heritage will play a part in his/her description. If so, I look up names from those countries. I knew I wanted a Vikingly sort of guy for my main male character in Swamp Ghosts, and spent some time going over Scandinavian names for something that would fit that and convey a strong sense of masculinity, too. (Hence, Gunnar Wolfe). I do believe names give readers an immediate sense of who a character is going to be, and if you get them wrong, you have to work harder to change their minds.

    I really enjoy the naming process, and I have to get it set first thing, so I can talk to these folks as I tell their stories. (The only one I didn’t research was Rabbit, because he came to me in a dream, fully-formed and already sporting his odd name. You don’t mess with something like that.:) )

    Interesting to see how you go about it, Craig, and to see how others do as well. Fun post!

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      • Oooh, excellent idea! Such a mixture of cultures there, you’d have all sorts of interesting names to choose from. I wonder if you can order a telephone book online somewhere. I’ll bet you can. You can sure order just about anything else. 🙂 Now you’ve given me another idea!

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  11. I use ‘name meanings’ to help with some characters. If I have a role or personality in mind then I go to a baby name site to search for a meaning. Something can simply click. There are also lists of surnames that I’ve used when I really need one.

    With creatures and places, I do something similar. I take a word they’re connected to and put it in Google translate. So, I use non-English words as their names. I sometimes do this for minor characters too.

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    • I never thought of Google translate. I may have to do that with a country I’m struggling with right now. Thanks for the idea. I also keep a list. Most of them come from work, so I can’t use them whole. I can massage them and use them, and have.

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  12. I’m famous for changing character names while writing the first draft. With my first novel, I changed almost every major character’s name. Part of that had to do with the fact four names began with the letter s. But sometimes as I write, the characters seem to name themselves. I do use online name generators (the one in Scrivener sucks). I also keep a list on my iPhone of names I come across.

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  13. Sometimes my characters name themselves, like Kate Charlesworth in Finding Katie. She left me no choice as to her name, lols. At other times, I have to sit and think about it, and some characters get greedy and claim two names, and I have to go back through and edit out the wrong name! lols. For the Battle for Brisingamen, I used online searches to get the Dutch names authentic, but many of the ‘fantasy’ characters I picked their names out of the ether as it were. Great post Craig, and some great ideas for coming up with names. Next time I get stumped, I’ll definitely look back at this 🙂

    Pressed This on: http://harmonykent.co.uk/problems-naming-things/

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  14. I can name characters just fine. I either use baby name sites, or – if I want a character to have a name meaning something spacific, and don’t know of one with that meaning off the top of my head – Google names that mean whatever meaning I’m looking for.

    For some reason though, I struggle to name things and places. When I had to name something the other day, I got the children of a friend involved. Had a brainstorming session with them over the phone (because I live too far from them to do it in person).

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    • I’m struggling with a fictional country right now. I want a name that suggests a certain image, but isn’t in this world. I’m using a place holder, and will probably change it later.

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    • I’m looking for better methods. There was a time when you could browse a phone book, but they don’t seem to be around much these days. I vowed to steal one from a New Orleans hotel, and in two trips I never have. The mixture of French, Southern, and everything else would be a great tool. Can’t flip through one online.

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  15. I feel your pain. I don’t like naming things and characters too. I feel awkward doing it.

    I read somewhere that J K Rawling used to go through graveyards in search of names, especially old or extinguished ones. It can also be creepy, but also a good exercise for a creative mind. I’d like to imagine a story for the person behind the name.

    Sometimes characters name just come to me, naturally. But it’s rare. It happened with the main male character of my WIP. Once I decided on his story I knew his name was Jason Hike.

    Other times it’s a deliberate decision. For the main female character, I wanted a nickname her father could use with her with affection, but that Jason could turn against her. I decided on Rainbow as a nickname, but I needed a reason why a stranger should call her that. So I gave her Sunshine as a surname.

    I’m awful at naming objects, streets, organizations. Too bad for someone who writes science fiction in AU. Usually, I go with the first thing that comes to my mind and then I search for a more suitable or meaningful name while I write. Sometimes it works, other times I keep the awful name.

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    • If you think about the Potter series, she used lot of ancient names. With her location, graveyards would be a wealth of ideas. I’m struggling with a fictional country right now. I’m using a name to move forward, but will probably change it later.

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