Here’s a Friday Question that became an entire post because I just can’t shut up.
Rebecca P asks:
How do you come up with character names when you're first creating characters? It is very important to have a memorable name that suits the character, which I think has been done brilliantly on the shows you have worked on. Do you pull them from people you actually know? Flip through books until you find an interesting name?
The short answer: All of the above.
Memorable names are important and a lot of factors go into my thinking when naming characters.
Names should fit the characters. First off I want the names to be age appropriate. Not many teenage Chloe’s in the ‘50s. Not many teenage Agnes’s now.
If I was doing a period piece I might not have the British Empire ruled by Queen Heather.
I try not to give girls boys’ names because it can be confusing to the reader. No Sam’s or Max’s. Likewise, I don’t assign girls’ names to boys. No Jan’s or Leslie’s for dudes.
I avoid multiple names that start with the same letter. In any one script I won’t have a Steve, Seth, and Stan.
To make my characters more distinctive I shy away from very common names like Joe, Sue, or Bob.
But I also don’t want the names to be too unusual. Eustacia, Doraleen-Jo. Unless… the character is proud of having a unique name and that’s part of his or her character. I once had an Ottalie in a script. Also a Persephone.
I take a character’s background into consideration. Is he from a blue-blood family in Newport, Rhode Island? His name probably would not be Clem. Is he a redneck from the Everglades? I don’t think his folks would name him Ulysses.
Certain names fit certain personalities based on people I identify them with. And certain names have almost become synonymous with certain personalities. Bambi is a bimbo. Nordling is a nerd. I avoid those.
Last names are even more challenging. Ethnicity and religion can be defined by the last name. Not a lot of Kentucky hillbillies named Goldberg.
Authoritative characters tend to have strong names. Steele, Mason, Wainwright.
I don’t want all my characters to have uncommon last names. A few yes but sprinkle in a Henderson or Baker in there too.
Another consideration is number of syllables. I like names to have a good flow. Two syllables in the first name and one in the last name or vice versa. Kim Cooper. Darnell Page. That’s not a hard and fast rule but I always say names out loud before assigning them. Are they pleasing to the ear? Are they easy to pronounce? Long tongue-twisting names can be a problem unless you specifically want that. Perhaps it’s a running joke that no one can pronounce or remember someone’s last name.
I don’t like first names to end with the same letter as the beginning of the last name. Kevin Nance. Cheryl Lane. I don’t like the first and last names to blend.
I won’t use Adolph.
I don’t want the names to be too long because I don’t want to stumble over them while typing. Hey, I’m being honest.
Where do I get the names? I’ve talked about this before. I’ve used names of people I know, old girlfriends, ballplayers. I have high school annuals. If I hear a great name I’ll write it down and save it. And now I’ll just go to a Facebook friend’s page and if they have thousands of friends I’ll scroll through them in search of names.
Picking the right name is important and worth spending a few minutes to get right. But I caution you: you could also spend five days choosing one name. Don’t. It’s a trap. Take a few minutes then pick one. And hey, now with find-and-replace, you’re not locked in. You can change your mind and two or three clicks later you’ve got your new moniker.
You’re welcome to use Ken, unless he’s a doll with no genitals.
THE COMEDY DEBATE CONTINUES. Here's Earl's rebuttal to my rebuttal. Not sure where Hillary or Bernie stands on this issue. I was watching the Dodgers-Mets game.