How to Create Unique Character Names

One of my favorite things to do as a writer is to create character names. It’s one of the first things I do to start a new story. Names can say a lot about a person and finding just the right title for your characters can really help the story flourish.

Firstly, there are a few types of names in the story world, and I’ve come up with five different categories, just for fun. We have: bland names, overused names, hard-to-pronounce names, principal-character names, and side-character names. Now, let’s talk about them in a little more detail.

These are the names that don’t really stand out, the names that we have to go back through the book searching for because we forgot who “that guy” was. Go through your memory and try to think of some dull character names from stories you’ve read. The characters you’ve forgotten about entirely, just because you forgot their name.

Yet another thing to consider, for characters that don’t really matter to the story, people who don’t need to be remembered at the end of a book, bland names are perfect! If you’re looking for a name to fit someone who is insignificant to the storyline, bland is just fine.

Okay, we’re talking the kind of names you can find in basically every young adult paperback sitting in used bookstores from here to Timbuktu (perhaps an mild exaggeration, as I often exaggerate things with ease). Think “generic.” Of, course, different genres are going to have different overused names. For instance, open a historically set book and you’ll probably find a John, a James, a Henry, a William, a Mary, etc., because those names were very popular in history. Something from the 1990s might have a Jessica, a Brittney, an Ashley, a Chad, and a Michael. So, yes it will be historically correct to use these names, but not necessarily unique, since they can be found in many other books. If you’re looking for highly accurate names for the time, go with those even if they’re overused. If you feel you could be a little more lenient, gather uncommon and unique names, ones that are still accurate yet rare.

I think overused names can be found more frequently in surnames, like Smith, Jones, Brown, Johnson, etc. Yet, there’s nothing wrong with using any of these names, first or last. Indiana Jones is a world-wide known name, because the ordinary surname is overridden by a very unique first name. Another example, Luke Skywalker: very common first name, very uncommon last name. So you have the freedom to choose whatever arrangement sounds best for your character. There are no “rules” here, play around with the names, generic or unique! You can also take a popular last name and use it as a first name, and visa versa.

(Side-note: Jane Austen often used the same name for many of her characters, like Jane, Fitzwilliam, Anne, Fanny, Mary, Robert, and John, and it obviously didn’t hurt her writing career because of it, so do whatever you may!)

Most certainly more than once, I’ve read a name over and over again throughout a book without knowing how to correctly pronounce it, mumbling it in my head, and hoping I never have to read it aloud. It could be a name from a different language, or completely made up, like “Poigly” or “Maigdor” (how did you pronounce those; I’d like to know?) We can go through an entire book and simply skim over actually understanding that one name, because we’re unsure of how it’s supposed to sound. Perhaps using one or two hard to pronounce names is perfectly harmless, but an entire book of it could easily hurt the flow of the story if the reader is fumbling through every other sentence. Imagine reading Genesis chapter 10 in a consistent flow. Yeah, impossible.

Secondly, a name can just be too long. It can get tiring for the reader to sound out 2 four-syllable names every time the character is mentioned. So maybe give them a nickname!

This is your main character’s name, the one that you want everyone to be able to remember, with a unique ring to it, and some sort of tie to their personality. A nice blend of easy to remember/catchy, yet unique. You can pick a name that reflects the traits of the character. Wise people would have intelligent sounding names, untrustworthy people, a suspiciousness about their names. If you have several main characters, make sure they don’t sound strange when put together (since they’re probably going to be mentioned together often), like Will, Bill, and Jill (unless it’s important to the storyline).

These are the names that lay somewhere in between the bland names and the principle character names. The ones that don’t really have to stand out, but have to sound realistic for their character, time period, and location. Any name that doesn’t make the principal-character cut, move it to the side-character list. A great sidekick needs a great name!

Where to find unique names?

  • A physical phone book – if you can find one. It’s always fun to do the random flip and point trick to create names. It never fails to give me unique and creative titles.
  • Cemeteries – This is my secret place for gathering names, shh don’t tell anybody. I’ve filled page after page with rare and interesting names that sounded fascinating to me, from several different cemeteries. If you’re looking for historic names, look at the older headstones. (And no, I don’t consider this morbid in any way, these people would have most likely been thrilled to find out that a writer from the future had included their name in a story.)
  • Your family tree – Look back into your own history and write down some of your favorite names, and of people who have been an inspiration to you from your family. It’s a good excuse to research your ancestry in detail, and you can even use some of the information and tales you find to include in the story.
  • Old censuses – this might be your last resort. If you can find an old census in the library or online, you can pinpoint the date and general location when and where a certain name was in fashion. But reading through document after document, you may find it easier to try the other methods first.

So whenever you’re in need of names, grab your trusty notebook and make two categories, first names and last names. Gather anything and everything that catches your attention. Mix and match to created hundreds of different names. You’ll know a good name when you see one. Sometimes a name alone can spark the idea for a whole new story!

You can also use your list of newly gathered names for streets, towns, and establishments. There’s no limit to what you can use your research for, and the good thing about doing all your own research is that no other writer is going to have the same list of names. It will be completely distinct.

All this to say: you don’t have to use the internet name-generators that everyone else uses. You can be unique and special by finding them yourself, in the world, in your hometown, and in your ancestry. So have a ball gathering wonderful names and watch your characters come to life!

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What’s your go-to way of naming characters?

Do names just come to your head, or do you go out and search for them?

Have you ever created a great name, only to then discover it’s already a famous literary character’s name and you can’t use it anymore, or is it just me?

Oh No, Not Another Little Women

Forget my last post. THIS, apparently is what brought me back to blogging: the need to rant about yet another version of my precious Little Women, which has somehow found its way onto the big screen, again. Yes, a new film was released around two weeks ago, claiming to represent the beloved Louisa May Alcott work about four sisters and their coming of age story. Just how many versions of this story can be made, one may ask? Well, if you were to include silent films, theatrical plays, musicals, operas, radio programs, tv shows, and films, there would be a grand total of 20 documented versions of Little Women.

You may have read my post on the PBS’s Masterpiece version that was released just last year, and I’ve promised myself that I won’t be as harsh with this one. . . if at all possible.  I’m sure we can all agree that Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version of Little Women has for certain, risen above all other attempts and that Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March were represented extremely well by Trini Alvarado, Winona Ryder, Claire Danes, and Kirsten Dunst, and it stands to reason that there will never be a better Laurie than young Christian Bale.

Now, after watching the film trailer, which can be found on YouTube, I’ve decided not to pay thirteen dollars to see this new version in theater because I would surely disrupt it for other viewers as I stand upon my seat screaming “That’s not historically correct!” or “That’s not even in the book!” After all, you can have all the best lighting, sets, color grading, and visual effects, but those things don’t really compete with the way the actual story of Little Women is told, and how the dialog and costumes are used to make us truly believe we’re in the middle of the Civil War.

On the other hand, maybe you’ve seen this new take on the book and found it enjoyable? That’s completely fine! Remember this is only me sharing my personal opinion. However, I did notice a few things in the official 3-minute-long trailer which at this moment has half a million views. Here’s what I noticed:

0:12 – We see four sister walking down a snowy street, two without any hats or bonnets (historically inaccurate). They also look a little homeless, but maybe I’m just too picky?

0:23 – We hear Amy tell her sisters that she wants to be the best artist in the world. Is it just me or does she seem older than all the sisters, and not the youngest child in the family? Why didn’t they find a younger actress to play ten-year-old Amy instead of trying to fool us out of knowing that the actress is actually twenty-three years old in real life?

0:57 – Jo’s at a party with her hair down. How did she get away with that? Quite shocking if you were to ask any historical reenactress today.

1:23 – It sounds like Jo is trying to convince Meg that they should run away from home? What?

1:32 – Ok, what in the world were they thinking? It’s Meg’s wedding day and she appears to be wearing something perhaps more fitting for the 1970s rather than 1870s, with her hair DOWN, uncurled, and with a side part (very historically inaccurate). With a budget of $40 million dollars, couldn’t they have hired someone who knew a little something about the standards of 1860s-1870s beauty? It’s her wedding day and is looking as though she forgot to wake up in time to do her hair. All throughout the trailer in fact, we see side parts and either straight or beach wavy hair, down about their shoulders and not up where it should be while in public, historically.

1:43 – Why is Jo burning her own writing? What happened to that being Amy’s trademark?

2:00 – Here is a staircase full of women presumedly at the Moffat party, perhaps? Ten girls dressed in basically the same dress, only each in a different pastel color with matching elbow length gloves, (not actually in fashion during the Civil War). It reminds me of a Disney cartoon/fairytale, instead of a historical drama in the way that each dress is the same. But that is only my personal opinion, of course. I also want to mention that I DID see many historically accurate gowns and outfits in the trailer that were quite beautiful in fact, ones that I absolutely cannot complain about.

2:29 – Jo is fashioned in a man’s jacket and derby. That would have been almost as strange to the people of New York in the 1870s as a man in a dress, literally. Yes, we all know Jo is a tomboy, but I doubt she would actually get away with that in public and not be harshly questioned for it.

What also riled me was that along with this new movie comes the selling of a book that a few people I know have bought. The front cover is a photo from the new film and inside are more pictures of the same. What I want to know is: Is this book the original book, or it is the 2019 adaptation that changes the plot to match Greta Gerwig’s script? Because, after reading a few articles, I know that not only little changes were made, but big ones too, like the ending. Emma Thompson, screenwriter and co-star of Sense and Sensibility 1995 once wrote in her production journal, “The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay and Dairies” that she strongly rejected the idea to republish Jane Austen’s book as a “novelisation” adapted to match Thompson’s screenplay, and sell it as the real thing. She said the idea was revolting, meaning that if someone wanted to read Sense and Sensibility, they should read Austen’s original work. I must agree with our dear Emma.

Little Women 2019, which stars a slew of famous names, has been spoken of well by film critics (but we all know that means almost nothing) and was already nominated for two Golden Globe Awards, Saoirse Ronan for Best Actress and Alexandre Desplat for Best Original Score. Now, I’ve done some little detective work and have found the following interesting facts:

  1. Winona Ryder was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress as Jo March in 1994 but lost to Jessica Lange for Blue Sky.
  2. Thomas Newman was nominated for Best Original Score in 1994 but lost to Hans Zimmer for The Lion King.
  3. The great Colleen Atwood was nominated for Best Costume Design in 1994 but lost to Tim Chappel for a movie I’ve never even heard of.
  4. Little Women, 1994 budget was $18 million dollars. Little Women, 2019 budget was $40 million dollars.

Now for a few more recent facts about the 77th Golden Globe Awards, held on January 5th, 2020:

  1. Christian Bale (Laurie, Little Women, 1994) was nominated for Best Actor in Ford vs. Ferrari.
  2. Thomas Newman (score composer, Little Women, 1994) was nominated for Best Original Score in 1917 and was against Alexandre Desplat who wrote the new score for the 2019 Little Women.
  3. Kirsten Dunst (Young Amy, Little Women, 1994) was nominated for Best Actress in a Television Series.

None of these nominations ended up winning last night, but I did see that both Thomas Newman and Kirsten Dunst were at the awards on Sunday night, (no Christian Bale though). Now, I was thinking. What do Christian, Thomas, and Kirsten, who are all heavily connected to the previous Little Women think about this new production? What do the rest of the cast and crew think? Do they think it was time for a remake, or are they like me and not ready for a new take on this beloved story?

Maybe I’m a little sour over this whole ordeal, but what else am I to think while feeling as though the book has been ripped from my hands, cut up, pasted back together with modernly crafted glue, plastered with an unknown photo from a film, stripped from its universally known ending, then released to the entire world to accept as once before? What do you think? Please let me know! I want to hear any and all opinions!

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Have you seen this 2019 version? Am I dreadfully wrong not to see it and yet criticize it?

Should I stop this continuous ranting of movies I don’t like? (Insert mysterious pirate accent here: Because I hear tell there be a trailer for a “Secret Garden” remake that I feel the need to tear apart, being a strong believer in the treasure that is the 1993 version, arrgg!)

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Megan Joy

Poems of Old // Weep You No More

Have you ever seen the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility starring Emma Thomson and Kate Winslet? Do you remember the song that Marianne sings in the movie (the scene where Colonel Brandon sees her for the first time)? Well, this is it! It was originally a poem supposedly written by an anonymous poet in the 1800s, although there are rumors that it was written by the English musician John Dowland in 1603 to an alternate tune. Whether either be true, it is a beautiful work of poetry and I wanted to share it!

Poems of Old - Weep You No More Sad Fountians simplymeganjoy.wordpress.com.JPGWeep you no more, sad fountains;

What need you flow so fast?

Look how the snowy mountains

Heaven’s sun doth gently waste.

But my sun’s heavenly eyes

View not your weeping,

That now lie sleeping

Softly, now softly lies

Sleeping.

 

Sleep is a reconciling,

A rest that peace begets.

Doth not the sun rise smiling

When fair at even he sets?

Rest you then, rest, sad eyes,

Melt not in weeping

While she lies sleeping

Softly, now softly lies

Sleeping.

Anonymous

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Have you ever seen the 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility?

Do you remember Marianne singing this song?

To watch a clip of this scene from Sense and Sensibility, click HERE!

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Megan Joy

Quote of the Week // 50th Week

Quote of the Week - 50th Week Simply Megan Joy Blog

Jane Austen (1775-1817) was the renowned British author of Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abby, and more, all of which have been adapted into numerous films or tv series’. Austen died at age 41 of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Only after her death did her literary works become popular.

It is a sad thought, but true. After years of constant life, it may seem as though we are quickly skidding across time doing many little and frivolous things of no great importance. Yes, there are moments and events that break up this feeling of continuous life and trivial tasks, but the succession of “busy nothings” we execute daily can pull us into a gloomy lull, and I think that this happens to everyone, whether we realize it or not.

My suggestion is; go back to the basics. Focus on what matters. This day, this moment. Pick the top ten things that matter to you, and stick by them. Make a list of things that matter, and another list of things that don’t, things that you could let go of for now to get back on track.

Let not our days be filled with little nothings and useless tasks, but be helpful, useful, and productive. Let’s get back to the simple basics and keep close the things that matter.

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Do you like Austen books or movies better?

Do you find that life has turned into a succession of busy nothings?

Do you plan to go back to the basics?

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Megan Joy