Clayton Blue's picture
Clayton Blue from Arizona is reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides December 8, 2011 - 3:44am

With the social networks that connect you with thousands of people you would have otherwise not known existed, writers are privy to the thousands of random names that come with each new 'friend'. How do you all feel about using these sources of names for your own characters? Obviously there are writers that put meaning behind the names they give their characters, but I'm sure there's a temptation to scan the endless names at random for one that fits. If a writer decides to steal a name, I'm sure it comes with the assurance of it being a real name along with the anonimity of its discovery (although I've heard something about the 'six degrees of separation' being closer on the web). Anyway... Should the writer ask the person they took it from? (If you know the person, then thats easy unless you don't plan on letting them read it. No matter how many times you say it isn't about them, they will always see their name and imagine themselves.) Not mentioning the obvious homages or winks to the reader, how do you all feel about this new found resource of endless names? 

David Shepherd's picture
David Shepherd from shepherdsville, KY is reading Idoru by William Gibbson December 8, 2011 - 3:51am

I've read alot of writers who scanned phone books for names, in fact I think Stephen king was one of them. Unless they have their name copyrighted I'd say its fair game.

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion; Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schimdt PH.D; Creating Characters by the editors of Writer's Digest December 8, 2011 - 7:03am

I've never thought about that. I always just had names pop into my head after I started writing the character. Most of my main character names are unusual names (Marlin, Adler, Rio...). I believe this makes them more memorable. I agree with David though, fair game unless copyrighted...

misskokamon's picture
misskokamon from San Francisco is reading The Moonlit Mind December 8, 2011 - 10:33am

using the phonebook, scanning the closing credits of films, using name generators--I find those great resources to coming up with names. I mean, you don't know these people, what they look like or who they know that you may know as well. The characters are still yours, untarnished.

That being said...

I do my best to name my characters without resorting to friends, family, family's friends or friends' families. If it's someone I know, someone I met once, someone who commented on my FB--I can't put them in my story.

There are two reasons for that.

The first is the inevitable, "is this supposed to be me?" People who aren't that creative don't understand where inspiration comes from, and will always assume you based one of their characters off of someone you know. Sometimes it's true, but most of the time it isn't, and all the time it isn't if you're me. If you borrow aspects of their name or take their name completely, the same result arises.

The second is I don't want that character becoming the person with those name bits. 

Names are supposed to have meaning and purpose. You name things not only to differentiate one from another, but you name things to give them power. Their name is a physical and mental trait. If I name a character with my coworker's first name and the last name of my sister's ex boyfriend, it's like making an egg in a pan I recently cooked french toast in. The egg is inevitably going to taste like the last thing in the pan, just like the character will taste like the last person who had that name. Which isn't always a delightful surprise!

Steven Moffat does this in his work once in awhile, sometimes to exact some sort of revenge. I find it dull and difficult to enjoy his characters once I find that out. I don't want to know that this person is a real person somewhere. And if I did that, well, I'd have a hard time cooking the character in my head, because he wouldn't be my character. He'd be a caricature of someone else.


.'s picture
. December 8, 2011 - 7:01pm

I seen a girl on facebook with mutual friends to me. I some how named a character after her. I must a seen her on there and the name stuck to me but I doubt it. I doubt it...

Nighty Nite's picture
Nighty Nite from NJ is reading Grimscribe: His Lives and Works December 8, 2011 - 9:35pm

The other week I was writing a short something to pass the time at work. I got stuck on a name when a customer came up and paid with his debit card. I used his last name. 

Of course, names are usually a lot more of a process for me. I've literally spent days coming up with the perfect name. It has to sound just right and evoke a certain emotion in me. 

ReneeAPickup's picture
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ReneeAPickup from Southern California is reading Wanderers by Chuck Wendig December 8, 2011 - 9:55pm

Usually my characters have a name in the very beginnings of the idea for the story, or I spend time on "baby name" sites--if I need one in a pinch I holler to my husband "Give me a woman's name", he's getting pretty good at it.

.'s picture
. December 8, 2011 - 10:13pm

@Nighty Nite You didn't happen to catch his pin # did you? 

David Shepherd's picture
David Shepherd from shepherdsville, KY is reading Idoru by William Gibbson December 9, 2011 - 12:44am

My character names are shit. Even with the internet I can't find good ones. I've taken to calling my protagonist gg for good guy and antagonist bg for bad guy until I finish and have to force myself to name them.

Clayton Blue's picture
Clayton Blue from Arizona is reading Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides December 9, 2011 - 12:54am

Ive read some pretty outrageous names that I would never consider using. Pynchon's Oedipa in The Crying of Lot 49 for instance. I think thats kinda strong, others don't give a damn what their character's names are. But I think if you find a good balance between Original, Rememberable, Believable, and Symbolic you should be fine. haha