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Saturday, February 17, 2007

Choosing Character Names

How do you choose them? There are many ways. Here are some of mine:

NAME THE ANTAGONIST AFTER SOMEONE WHO HAS PISSED YOU OFF. Speaks for itself, this one. Alot of my characters are called Dave when I'm not speaking to my husband. I (usually) change it later.

THE NAME IS THE TITLE METHOD. Sometimes naming the piece after the character in some way is a really good way of summing up the piece - sometimes it just leaves
Readers baffled. It can be hit and miss, but if you hit, it can be great.

THE PHONEBOOK METHOD. Open the phonebook and pick an initial, then brainstorm possible names. More creative and sometimes you can come across some great surnames that also give you ideas. I also found an A. Ventura living in Exeter once, though whether he or she is a pet detective is unconfirmed.

THE LITERARY ALLUSION METHOD. Got a backstabbing evil twin in your screenplay? Why not call him Edmund (King Lear)! I think this is the biggest offender I read whilst script reading, though Holden comes up ALOT, especially in American screenplays - Catcher in The Rye, apparently, though I've never read this book. Another fave is Harper, as in To Kill A Mockingbird, which I have read. However, those three are overused, this can be an effective tool - a little "short cut" to telling the a
udience what this character is really about. Just choose wisely.

THE "GRAB A DVD" METHOD. Look at the listings on a DVD or imdb.com or whatever and just nick the most interesting ones. We've had enough of heroes called John by the way!!!

THE IRONIC NAME METHOD. I always look on this website for these. You can search meanings here as well as celebrity favourites and most popular in the country where you live. I used an ironic name in THY WILL BE DONE for example: discovering the name "Rebecca" means "noose" in Hebrew (really!), I gave the character who was the downfall of another this name - give a man a rope and he hangs himself, in effect.

THE "GIVE ME A NAME, ANY NAME!" METHOD. Ask people standing near you. Never a good idea, since this is closely linked to the "OM" Method (see below) and you get the same ones suggested. If I hear Catherine or James one more time, I'll go mad.

THE "OM" METHOD. As in, "This character is named....ommmmmm....aaaahhhh....SUSAN!" (What?) The advantages of this method is the right name "comes" to you; the disadvantage is you often use the same ones. At the moment I am stuck on Rob and Jack for boys and Melissa and Jenny for girls. BORING.

What do you do to name YOUR characters?

8 comments:

Chris (ukscriptwriter) said...

I guess I use three:

(1) The 'OM' method.
(2) The mix and mash workplace method (take random fore and surnames from people at work).
(3) If (1) and (2) fail, dive into the name bank on MMS.

I've got 4 screenplays on the go at the moment and I've used all of the above in each of them.

C

h said...

haha the first method made me laugh out loud

i don't think i have a method. recently i've found that i can't start writing something properly until i know the character's name. i'll know the character inside out, but have to wait until s/he decides to let me know their name before i can write anything. do you ever have that?

Lucy said...

Chris - Ah yes, see I only work with MYSELF so if I tried your 2 it wouldn't really work out.

And welcome h! Please feel free to drop by any time and borrow a cup of virtual sugar...

Phillip Barron said...

Depends what nationality the characters are. I've just been writing a script where all the characters are Turkish, so I looked up names on Turkish baby name websites and tried to pick names whose meaning reflects the characters' personalities.

I also try to give an even spread of names throughout the alphabet - don't know why.

I have a tendency to pick short, usually four letter names; because they're easier to type.

In 'LVJ' half the cops are named after cops from Batman comics, the other half are named after Ronnie Barker characters. Except for some reason I put Wainwright instead of Arkwright. I think that's something to do with Douglas Adams.

Other than that I sometimes combine names from the authors on my shelves.

And when I'm really bored, I use anagrams of filthy swear words. I might start using the word verification things on people's blogs.

Optimistic_Reader said...

I consult a baby name book or www.behindthename.com - the latter has a random name generator, and you can look up names according to nation of origin, mythology, their meaning and so on. I like ironic names, but sometimes I just pick them based on an association I have with certain names. I can't commit to a script until I've found a suitable name for a character.

Olaf Legend said...

Apropos of much, i wish i had nerve to use some of names on damn pharmacuetical spam emails i keep getting like - Heromymous G Spiking, Lifestink B Hammersack. Or the latest one I receipt ... Sprinkles Q Follicle.

There are some guilty parents out there.

Attempt names that are incrongrous is Olaf advice. I have evil villain in most recent scriptplay who wish to take over the world and his name is Terry.

You much disagree possibly, but not all characters names in films reflect there outward intentionals.
Think about it.

Chris (ukscriptwriter) said...

I forgot one other method I have tried in the past:

My 4 year old daughter.

To give you a hint at how useful she is, she named one teddy Orange Flower, another Rain and the last snowman we built was called Treetops.

Now if I were writing about some rather 'earthy' people from the sixties, that would be fine, but I'm not :)

Lucy said...

Chris - my son often suggests weird names like that, maybe he and your daughter should get married when they grow up!

Olaf - never said ALL characters' names reflect their intentions, it can just be a handy device.

OR - thanks for the link, will check that out.

Phil - filthy swear words!! Now I know you're my kinda guy... ; )