Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Top 7 Quick and Easy Ways To Name Fictional Characters

I don't know if any of you people are writing a novel right now, in fact, I don't know if people still do that... but I do know that whenever you take a trip to Fiction Land, you have to have neat names for all your players or else no one will read your stuff. (Unless you're José Saramago...) Well, once again, I decided to act in your best interests and give you a blueprint!

7. shm-reduplication

Lookit. The fact of the matter is, all the good names are already out there. There's nothing new under the sun, only redesigned packaging. Time to corner the packaging market with a little shm-reduplication. (By the way, thanks Rob, for the wiki-link.) It really simple. Hey, here's a great character name: Humbert Humbert. Multiply that by a little shm, and you've got Shmumbert Shmumbert. No one will a) know what hit them, and b) not love your new-and-improved character name! (For you mathematicians at home, that equation was: Humbert Humbert x shm-constant = AWESOME.) Man, at this rate, you can knock out a whole cast list in no time... full of colorful characters like Shmay Smatsby, Shmolden Shmaulfield, and of course, Shmurtz. (Although, except for ol' Shmurtzy, it looks like all your characters have the initials S.S.! This is maybe inappropriate?)

6. character frequencies and random.org

So I don't know if you caught it, but I did a little sweet math back there in the shm-blurb. Well, the math-hits just keep on comin', because I decided to ratchet that shit up a notch, math-style. I made a totally random name. Lemme break it down. First, I decided my name should be 24 characters long. Then, I checked on a table of character frequencies to figure out which letters to use and how many times to use each one. After that, I put those letters in Column A of an excel sheet, entered a random ordering of the numbers 1 through 24 (courtesy of random.org) in Column B, and sorted by Column B. That's how I came up with "Omlnus N. Atocas-Wetrferdhte". A) Could I be more of a nerd? B) How sweet is that name? He is like some sort of Indian brave whose feminist mama married a German officer. I can't wait to write the story of his life!

5. use the names of people from your childhood, especially if you are writing about your childhood, specifically about grudges that you refuse to give up on, even though it has been, what, fifteen years?

Yeah, this actually might not be the best strategy…

4. incredibly blatant names

I guess these are more properly considered aptronyms, like Mrs. Malaprop of The Rivals or Worldy Wiseman of The Pilgrim's Progress. I think you can go further than Misters Sheridan and Bunyan and have a little fun with it. Maybe you’ve got a policeman in your novel… a grizzled veteran who sometimes has to play by his own rules. Consider naming him Detective Maverick Grizzle. Or, if you want to be a bit more on the nose, try Officer Handgun. Perhaps your protagonist is a young mayor with big ambitions. Mayor Freshface McIdealism. If he’s more sinister than that, go with Mayor Top-hat. Finally, you can always use a name to denote physical traits of your characters… attractive young quarterback? Johnny B. Musclyarms. Loveable goof? Warren P. Gangly. Cheerleader with dreams of leaving this small town and making something of her life? Suzie Q. Ingénue, obviously. And that, my friends, is the makings of a beautiful love triangle.

PS: There’s a pretty great mini-debate regarding aptronyms vs. nominative determinism on, where else, Wikipedia.

3. deity from antiquity plus common surname

Hey! It's time for a little props-giving! You may notice that there's been an addition to our list of links you should click on--in fact, the list has swelled from 12 to 13 items to include My Unpacked Library, a lovely literary offering from Matt Schratz, one of the all-time best guys. (Note: I have yet to begin work on my list of the top 261 all-time best guys, but don't think I don't have extensive notes.) Matt hails from the Western New York area (like me!) and once upon a time, at his house in Lockport, he divulged a fantastic theory of character naming to me. You take the name of a preferably ancient god or goddess (Greek, Norse, Hindu, etc.), put it in front of a common surname (Jones, Smith, Brown, etc.) and you are golden. You can gussy up the godly given name, if you want--shorten it to make a nickname, for instance.

Fun examples: Odin Jones, Persephone “Persy” Brown, Arjuna Smith, Siegfried “Siggy” Stevens, Jupiter Cooper.

PS: Juno MacGuff does NOT count. Eff that ess.

2. porn star names

First off, I should say… these aren’t real porn star names. Because I obviously don’t know any real porn star names. Ron Jameson? Is that one? (Oh great, now we’re going to get all that porn traffic. Awesome.) So, you’ve all heard this old chestnut. You take your middle name for the given name (or first pet, there are variations…) and the name of the street you grew up on, and that’s your porn star name. Mine is Emmanuel Winspear. My roommate’s is Roddy Lancaster. I’m just going to stop right there and say that even though I’ve never seen a “porn-o”, the pairing of Winspear and Lancaster would surely a Boogie Nightsworthy team.

By the way, just because you have named a character using this technique does not mean they have to be a porn star in your novel. They could be a fireman. Or a nurse. Or a physics grad student who needs to make a little extra cash because her grant is criminally underfunded. …Or a nurse.

1. army callsigns

If it worked for Wilco, it can make you into a great novelist! There's this neat thing called the NATO Phonetic Alphabet, in which each letter of the alphabet is assigned a code word. Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, for instance, the 2001 Wilco album, stands for YHF and... I don't know the significance of that. Anyway, maybe you could take your initials and translate them into code words! Let's try it with my name! Okay, so... PMS becomes Papa Mike Sierra. Oh snap! That is a baller name, fo' sho'. Papa Mike Sierra is probably the leader of some mountain enclave... he's got like, 4 wives and 5 guns and 6 different words for kickass. With the help of his trusty sidekick, Tango Kilo (who is totally some sort of native-warrior-turned-guide), he's got to defend his fortress, Hotel November, against the forces of Uniform Charlie, a totalitarian dictator who wants to throw Papa Mike's ass in the hole. But on the eve of battle, Papa Mike's one true love (aka: not one of his four wives) Juliet Whiskey reveals... she's pregnant! Who will reign supreme over the mountain enclave? Will Tango Kilo remain loyal? Will Papa Mike get to shoot all of his five guns? Will the baby be named Oscar? (Hint: Uh huh!)

Ohmygosh, someone please write that. I basically did all the work for you.


Rob said...

Jay Xylon would be in some really, really weird porn.

El Gigante said...

I have three new nicknames cause of this article. Romeo Delta Romeo, David Del Moreno and Johny Q. Nerdington.

Eagerly awaiting the best guys list.

El Gigante said...

Oh and nice Jose Scarmango reference.