Choosing character names

J.M. Aucoin . Writing about writing 1834 No Comments

Darius Snowcrab

My character naming in college was almost as bad as my pirate costume in college (I’m on the right).

I sometimes feel like choosing character names takes me longer than coming up with a plot. No idea why. Part of it is that I find it fun to mix and match possible name combos. Other times it’s because I want a character’s name to have a certain meaning or sound or tone to it.

Sometimes naming goes horribly wrong, though.

I was going through some old short stories I wrote in college, hoping to salvage some ideas for a short-story ebook compilation I’m currently assembling. Couple of them can be saved with works; others are bound to never see the light of day — possibly not even to the girlfriend. What was really embarrassing was the name I gave my schrew and dashing pirate captain — Captain Darius Snowcrab.

Yikes.

It made sense at the time. I love names starting with D and Darius had a nice ring to it. Snowcrab came from my cousin since I ordered spicy snowcrab when we would go get sushi. So those two things mixed with being on a tight deadline for school led to what is an awful, awful, awful name. He’s since been renamed Jake Hawking which sounds a bit more swashbuckling. More good, less suck. His crew also have solid, fun names like Ian Trask, Clifford Marling, Nathaniel Browne and Laurence Harper.

Lord Bowler

The great Julius Carry as Lord Bowler.

There’s also an ex-slave in the short story named Little Queen (he’s actually not little), partially influenced by the ex-slave pirate from James L. Nelson’s “Brethren of the Coast” series, King James. Was also influenced by the fun character from Bristo County Jr., Lord Bowler. I loved the naming convention of these black characters of Regal Title/Some Given Name. Not sure if that’s based in any historical fact or just what the writers of both stories felt like going with but I went the same. They’re fun names and are memorable for very memorable characters.

The main character in the novel I’m in the midst of rewriting/edits is named Darion Delerue. Again with the D names. Of course Darion isn’t French, it’s Greek, but Greek culture was in vogue during this time period so I may let it stand. But one of his best friends is named Peppin Petite who is a short, rotund, one-eyed bawdy soldier who often goes by the nickname “Pep.” The juxtaposition of his name and his character personality makes me smile when he’s in scenes. Hopefully the reader will feel the same way.

Captain Blood is a great example of a character name. Perfect a pirate tale. One of the many reasons I envy Rafael Sabatini.

Errol Flynn as Captain Blood

Errol Flynn as Captain Blood

Spanish characters are my favorite to come up with. Historically their names are so long that the possible combinations are endless. It’s almost impossible to come up with a bad Spanish character name. In the pirate short story I just wrote there’s mention of Don Enrique Vázquez del Castillo, the governor of Havana. A Spanish captain is also mentioned, Don Diego Méndez de Soto. In the novel I’m reworking there’s a Spanish swordsman by the name of Gonzalo Yanez de la Cruz de Madrid. You can just start pulling parts of names out of a hat and it sounds good. I love it.

Characters based in the England/Wales/Ireland/Scotland are also fun. Just look at the new pirate names. Those combinations are fun to come up with.

French is a bit harder, I feel. Too many Jeans/Jehans, Pierre’s, Henrys, Charles, etc. I love France and French history but there’s not a lot of fun French names, so I tend to bend name ruling conventions.

For coming up with names I’ll use a few different sources:

I start with SCA College of Arms name resources.  These guys do their homework on finding accurate names for medieval and Renaissance time periods so it’s usually where I start. I’d say about 85% of the character names I come up with are at least somewhat influenced by the info on those pages. Go to their Spanish section and do what I do and just mix and match for some awesome sounding combinations.

I’ll go through movie credits filmed in countries I’m writing about, use Name Generators, mix and match character names from different books I like, etc.

I’ll also use Baby Name websites if I’m really, really stuck. I tend to hate using them. Not sure why. Maybe because I want to be as historically accurate as I can (with some exceptions) and there’s not always a good way of knowing when a name came to be. Also the name ethnicity bit isn’t always 100% accurate.

Even with all that sometimes I slave for hours over coming up with perfect character names. There’s been points where I just said “Screw it. Just write the damned story and fix the name later if you want.” but I do enjoy researching possible character names. Like the clothes they wear you can tell a lot by a character’s name.

As long as it’s not Darius Snowcrab.

J.M. Aucoin

Author. Fencer. Sometimes actor. Full-time nerd. I write swashbucklers & historical adventure novels.
  • Alison J. McKenzie

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    I usually use baby names websites and name generators. I wasn’t aware of the SCA resource, so thanks for sharing.

    Reply

    • Justin

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      No problem. The SCA name resource is a good start if you’re looking for names from medieval and Renaissance periods. They have given names and surnames and explain a bit about how that nationality pairs names up and stuff. It’s a nifty little resource. 🙂

      Reply

      • Alison J. McKenzie

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        It sounds awesome. That’s exactly the sort of thing I’m looking for.

        Reply

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