Insider Secrets: Naming characters in fictional stories

One of the questions often asked of fiction writera is “How do you come up with the names for the characters in your stories?”. The truth is that it’s actually quite a complex process and involves some little known writer’s secrets.

The process for naming fictional characters is similar to registering an ISBN number for your book. Writers have access to the ICWA (International Creative Writers Association) database, which contains every name registered in the world. This huge system not only contains information on names but also allows writers to register their selected character names so they won’t be used by other writers.

The system is an Artificial Intelligence masterpiece allowing writers to enter in detailed biographical data for their characters, including such things as physical appearance, unusual habits and even traumatic experiences and will then generate a list of the most suitable . names that haven’t been used previously. For example, say you want a name for a left-handed card-hustler from Texas with ginger hair, two divorces and a teenage daughter, you can enter all of that information and the system will give you a list like this:

Welly Heckendor
Marc Dunford
Sukhjeet Witchey
Leroy Halberg
Yousaf Lynsdale

Once the base parameters are set, you can narrow down your choices by adding further refinements such as whether a character likes pasta, seafood, or steak or what color socks they prefer.. Once you’re happy you can select the character name and “adopt” it for your next work

Of course, all this comes at a price and writers have to pay for the names they use. Pricing is on a graduated scale based on how common the name is. So for example names like Bob, Harry, Sue and Brad are very affordable, while others such as Corvorant, Iskemihl or Gwladys are expensive.

This explains why many detective novels are littered with characters called Mike, Sam or Hercule. It’s also one of the reasons science fiction and fantasy is so expensive – imagine the cost of a character name such as Bilbo Baggins or Zaphod Beeblebrox! (In an interview in 2001, Douglas Adams revealed that the reason his main two protagonists in the “Hitchikers” series were named Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect was in fact to offset the extreme cost of Beeblebrox and Slartibartfast.)

Of course, nothing in the publishing world is simple anymore and with the recent growth in popularity of Asian characters and movies, a rival character naming organization, the OSKW (Oda Shim Konin Qian chinese) has started to make big inroads into character name registration based on non-western alphabets. This makes it tricky to know which service to use if your book features an international cast.

Another serious concern in recent years is the rise of pirated character names becoming widely available through eastern European websites. With costs always an issue, many writers feel they are being forced to use such illicit naming sources even though they run a high risk of the character names not being officially recognized world-wide and the strong possibility of financial loss if a character becomes popular that has not been licensed properly.

The world of fictional character naming had never been so complicated!

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