LESSON A Note on Names

Discussion in 'REFINING WRITING' started by Minibit, Feb 25, 2014.

  1. With all the excitement about naming the new Charp world, I got to thinking about naming things, and decided to post a supplement to my previous workshop on the topic. This one is more specifically about naming characters.

    When naming characters, there are no real rules for what you SHOULD do when naming them, but there are a few things it's generally good NOT to do.

    • Choose a name that's meaning is significant.
      It can be tempting to name your hippy/nature loving character Fern, or Glenn, or another nature-based name. But the truth is, when someone is born their parents have no idea what kind of person they will grow up to be; conveniently choosing a name that fits their personality perfectly seventeen years later is a bit out there. If their name is significant to them, it's more probable that they were named after a circumstance of their birth. Examples include (but are not limited to): physical elements such as eye colour, weather, location, the date or time of year, in honour of a relative or admired figure, or a hope for their future; many cultures believed that ones name will shape ones future). In summation, choosing a character's name or name meaning because of their interests, personality or another factor their parents wouldn't have known about at their birth is a bit bogus.

    • Choose a super-exotic-sounding name
      Usually this happens with Asian names, sometimes named after anime and manga characters. However it is statistically far more likely your white, American high-schooler is named Jim, and not Hikaru. Again, many exceptions where this would be perfectly normal, such as having non-physically-apparent heritage, being adopted at birth, a name chosen for its sound or meaning, being named after someone, one's parents being fascinated with or influenced by another culture, etc. however, if there's no apparent reason, it can come off a bit disorienting

    • Change letters for the hell of it
      This does happen a lot in real life, along with name-smashing ("Rachette" = Rachel + Jeanette), but not nearly as often as it seems to in roleplays. However, because it happens a lot in real life, it's excuseable, it's only because it can be taken to an illegible extreme that it's on this list. If your new spelling makes the name hard to read or pronounce, do your readers and partners a favour and either rethink the spelling or switch to a more conventional one.

    Edited for clarity; there are of course circumstances and exceptions where doing one of these three would make sense. I hope it's easy to look at this list and be able to tell "Nope, this doesn't apply to my character"
    #1 Minibit, Feb 25, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2014
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  2. Hey hey hey, now I'm not tryna go against the Minibitz.

    But a XYZ culture name on a ABC culture person CAN help show backstory.

    For example, a White American missionary family has a baby in Thailand and wants the baby to be of Thai citizenship, since they plan to live there. According to Thai (and many other nation's citizenship requirements), the baby must have a legitimate Thai name. So the name Kanyasiri or Ampaiphun on a White American baby makes sense IN THAT SITUATION.

    HOWEVER, it does not excuse the whole my name is Ayaka Michishige on a Kenyan girl born and raised in Norway, either.

    This is also why my name--although both my names are relatively easy--is harder for others to remember. It's not typical for people of my descent to have my name, thus my name seems almost "disconnected" from me.
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  3. That's why I specified heritage. Of course if your heritage is from a particular nationality you may be named for it. There are extenuating circumstances like the Thailand scenario, but the average American citizen with American heritage within USA borders is unlikely to be given a Japanese name. I like to think it's easy for a roleplayer to tell when a workshop or bit of advice doesn't apply to their character, so I don't typically bother to list every exception
    #3 Minibit, Feb 26, 2014
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2014
  4. Or your parents have a knack for giving foreign names - like my have. The names of me and my brothers are Ray, Ian and Tim. You would think that were are Americans right? But we are from a Slavic country. Now would believe that? In modern settings globalization has made names transcend nationality so such foreign language names are somehow possible. At least you are not unlucky enough to be named Facebook.

    To also note there are communities of pretty much every nationality in almost any developed country. Hell my transitional country of 4.33 million people had a Japanese community of at least few hundred people.

    As for the meaningful name thing that is popular in some cultures while in some just losses to getting named after your grandfather or even older relative. Somewhere they are tied.
    Getting names after the saint of the day you were born on - take a look at Spanish speaking country.
    Most names with meaning - Probably Japan! And even the kanji in the names can sometimes give a unique meaning to the name!
    So research is important. Pages which list the most popular names of each language also help and the investigation of those names helps!

    As for "Change letters for the hell of it" as you put it. It is not uncommon that two similar languages (or even the same language) have similar names written just a bit different - or that one language took a name from one language and adapted it for it's use. I can't remember any examples now but there are probably quite a few of them.

    I cloud probably go and on, so I will just make my point - circumstances matter. The setting, the back story, the globalization level, parentage, species...
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  5. I totally agree with everything you said! There's definitely exceptions for everything, and because I think it's pretty easy to tell when it would be appropriate to have, for example, a name with a cultural background not native to your country (ie: someone who lives in chinatown or is part of a minority group). If your family heritage is Japanese, or you live in a Japanese community within a country other than Japan, having a name like Sakura or Yuki would make sense. However if your parents are both European mixed bloods born in the states among other European mixed bloods, it would be more likely for them to name you Steve or Anna. This isn't to say people never have (again, your example) a fascination with names from another culture, or names that were just chosen for the sake of their sound or meaning, but it's statistically more likely and more expected for people to have names consistent with their setting and heritage. I thought I outlined this in the OP, but since two people have pointed it out, maybe I should reword it :(

    Same deal with being named after/for something or someone. I thought I outlined the obvious exceptions such as being named for a relative or a circumstance of your birth (like being born on a saint's day), or even being named after a person or character that your parents admire (I had a coworker who was named Jessica after Jessica Rabbit), but maybe I need to make it clearer.

    Changing letters for the heck of it is, as I said in my OP, definitely something that happens in real life; more and more I see it since I posted that. Name-smashing (taking two relatively common names and smashing them together into a new name, like Ashley + Rachelle = Ashelle) is also becoming more trendy this generation. My objection to this is when it makes the name pronunciation difficult to figure out, or difficult to read. In this case, I would personally recommend you either rearrange it or switch to a more conventional spelling, just to make it a bit easier on your readers/the other players.
  6. I am guilty of #1 quite often, but I am trying to curb it. Coincidentally, I named my most recent rp character after a Muslim girl I knew (since I needed an Arabic name anyway and didn't want to fall into my 2-hour babyname meaning searches again) and it turned out later- I couldn't help myself- that its meaning went really well with the character completely by accident. I will never escape from my old habits.
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  7. I've had it accidentally, too! I named a feisty Prince character Aiden, only to look it up for the hell of it later and find that it means 'fire'
    My brither's name (Collin) means "Victory of the People". He's always had an interest in history, especially concerning war, Revolution and other political power shifts, and recently started serving in the army. He only found out his name meaning last year. Coincidences like that happen, but it's statistically unlikely, so it's generally good not to do intentionally unless you're writing an allegory or heavily symbolic story
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  8. Well, um, i'm kind of guilty for one of them. Not meaning to, actually. My most recent character is called Raquel Hazel Cinder and I had originally planned on calling her Hazel, but then I remembered an anime - Scrapped Princess - with a character named Raquel Thought the name sounded awesome, so I looked it up so make sure it was an actual name haha - cause i've never met someone called that. Turned out it is, so I called her Raquel Hazel.. I looked it up after(as I used a bio template on Iwaku and it had a name meaning) and it turned out Raquel Hazel means Innocent Commander.. Well, she's not really innocent, if you take it as the naive type of way, but she aims to be a leader(werewolf who plans to be alpha female).. I saw that and I couldn't help but laugh.
  9. I am often guilty of naming my characters by meaning or scrolling through lists of names until I find one that I like.

    There's one recent character I've made on a different site I'm looking forward to use that I just found a common name and went with it.
    Let's see, his name is Mark... *researches* Hahaha! The origin of the name is apparently like this Mark -> Marcus -> Mars, the god of war. Did I mention my char is a coward in a superpower-setting and proud of it?
  10. I like it. This guide is sensible.

    Also, for people addressing the exceptions, those aren't the rule. Yes, you have people in Japan named "Thomas" or "Jacob" or otherwise, but there are going to be far more Sakuras and Katsuos. Atop this, most people born with a foreign name often have foreign parents, or parents that aspire to move to the foreign name's country/region of origin. There are also people who change their names or adopt additional names to suit a different country's naming nomenclature should it be dramatically different from their own.

    That being said, these are more like guidelines. You don't have to never use these, writing conventions pretty much state you can use any tools you want for any reason you like. Just that, if you want a sensible name, something more grounded to reality, then these rules work well.
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