Naming Characters and Reading Tombstones

There are a few characters in the goblin project that need new names. My first draft of this story was written during the 2011 3-Day Novel contest. One of the realities of that competition is that you just don’t have time to think deeply on many of small decisions you have to make while writing a story. While drafting the goblin project under such circumstances I found myself creating supporting characters on the fly, and naming them just as quickly. On top of that, this is a fantasy story so I felt the burden of expectation I imagine many fantasy writers face: to give their characters unique, memorable names that are composed of brand new words. No one knew who “Spok” was before Gene Roddenberry, and no one knew who “Frodo” was before J.R.R. Tolkien, but everyone knows them now. I can only hope the names I dream up will someday have such resonance.

Have you ever faced this dilemma?

A Graveyard of Inspiration

There’s a cemetery near my home. About 150 yards of bike path connects our block with its rear border. A shallow, winding stream runs along the path, sometimes jutting away, and sometimes flowing parallel. It’s a great place to walk. I often head that direction with my son. I’ve found the cemetery is a great place to take a toddler. Hardly anyone is there for us to bother, there’s lots of mowed grass which easy for him to run in, and there aren’t many bugs.

Each time we walk through there I read the stones aloud to him, pointing out letters and numbers and helping him traverse the sometimes bumpy path. It occurred to me tonight that a cemetery is a great place to find inspiration for character names. I stumbled on a handful of stones that marked the lives of people who had died in the 1830’s through the 1860’s. There were names memorialized there I had never heard: Balkema, Bruggink, and others. (Keep in mind I live in an area that was settled by dutch immigrants.)

I didn’t have my note pad on me (A serious foible for any writer, I know…) but I plan to head back soon with moleskin in hand to gather names. Perhaps I’ll create a list of every name I’ve never heard before (I bet it would easily exceed 50) and then try to create some “fantasy version” of each one.

Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. Either way, it can’t hurt. Some of the names in the goblin project are so arbitrary right now they’re laughable. They’re a far cry from Spok and Frodo.

How do you name your characters? If you end up walking through a graveyard with a notebook in hand, let me know. I’d love to hear how it went.


4 thoughts on “Naming Characters and Reading Tombstones

  1. evilnymphstuff

    Wow this is a very effective way to find names! Great post :) I usually name my characters by uh… well now that I think of it uh… I don’t have a clue! LOL I just find a name (or any common noun like ‘jade’, ‘ginger and which are awesome cute names ^^) I like and I stick to it and change it and distort it until I get a whole bunch of memorable names (to me) for my characters.

    1. Andrew Rogers Post author

      Hi Evilnymphstuff! What type of genres do you write in? I’ll take your idea of morphing nouns and see what happens. Thanks for the inspiration.

      I saw on your site that you’re doing NaNoWriMo this year – awesome! I’ve thought about doing that for a few years now but haven’t made the leap. If I can come up with a great idea between now and then I may still do it….

      I’ve done the 3-Day Novel contest for the last 4 years (highly recommended).

  2. Pingback: What’s in a (dragon’s) name? « Tell Better Stories

  3. Pingback: Book Review: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings « Tell Better Stories

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