Screenwriting : What's in a name? by Nikki April Lee

Nikki April Lee

What's in a name?

How important is choosing a name for your characters? Do you research a name? Do you choose a name that fits personality or do you just pick whatever comes to mind?

Antonio Ingram

Well it is a little bit of all of that because I have done all of those. Trust me, the name will find the character. You just got to keep looking. To me it's like finding the title sort of.

Sonny Dyon

I LOVE this topic...every name I choose means something to me. Sometimes I try to go with a name that insights a feeling, like I had a female character who's last name was Boniface which loosely translates to beautiful face. I've looked up names of ancient god's for good and bad characters or biblical names, historical relevance...whatever. To me, they help me associate with the character, flesh them out...make them three dimensional. To be honest though, my greatest source for names comes from my bookshelves...I've got three tall bookshelves right to the right of my eyeline filled with hundreds of books, I sometimes take my names off of authors, characters in the books...little things I have on the shelves other than books. For instance, kind of a funny story...have you ever seen that Lionel Richie meme? The one where it's a classic '80's pic of him and underneath it says HELLO? and then has pull tabs (like a homemade poster) with the lyrics to that song? I have that cut out and taped to a Frisbee (long story) and I named one of my characters Lionel Frizbee. Anyway, thanks for posting the topic...

Mark Souza

Don't let it keep you up. If Humbert Humbert can be one of the most famous characters in literature, then clearly it's not as important as what's on the page. I give my main characters a little thought, maybe the top four or five in a story. Other than that, I try not to stereotype, and I try to look for diversity and a mix of ethnicity. A phone book is good for that. Occasionally I'll try to stick a friend's name in as an homage. If something better pops into your head later, you can always change it. The main thing is to not let it slow down the writing process.

Nikki April Lee

I agree with you all. I remember spending an hour researching surnames to find one that is perfect. Then it hits me: no one cares about the last name unless its relevant such as a descendant of royal blood or family business or some sort. I love when a character had a nick name. It seem to make their personality shine abit more to me. Most times I try to look for names with attached nicknames unless its a serious drama. Then I keep it strictly to business. Wouldn't risk anyone losing interest when reading them.

Anthony D Paul

Names are important. I might name a character after something I saw on TV. I also use two other avenues. One is the social security website. They arrange names by year for boys and girls and what were the popular names given in a particular year. What were the popular names of boys in 1969? Go to the website and see. Go to Barnes and Noble and get 'The complete book of baby names." If gives you the origin and meaning of the name. For example Chaela (English) Form of Michaela, meaning, 'who is like God?' Dang I might use that!

Ben Felix Spencer

I know it's probably very narcissistic of me, but I can't help sneaking a Ben into my stories, be it a dog, minor character, etc.!

Allison Bruning

I usually research a name then chose the one that best fits my character's culture, time period and personality.

Sunny Nash

I'm careful not to overuse common names. Give the character some real character with a memorable tag, not too odd, that fits the personality and voice.

Tabitha Baumander

I hate picking names. Yet I agree it can be very very important.

Nikki April Lee

Can anyone think of a movie they saw or script they read where a character's name did NOT suit them at all?

Tabitha Baumander

8oP pththtttt

John Luksetich

every name has meaning and the more you think about it, the more you will realize what fits best. names are a small detail but they can really stick with people when they watch a film like - luke skywalker.

John Luksetich

personally I try to make sure every name has some meaning in films i write just as every object / location has meaning. It takes more effort but the details can make a film even when you don't seem to notice. The films i love have names that made sense - that didn't stand out as stupid. you kind of knew they fit. so unless you are planning for your film not to be a success - then i guess names don't matter and you can throw anything out there but I bet if you ask the writers of films we enjoy that they were very careful with the names they selected. just my opinion

Mark Souza

I'm with you, Jacqueline. The writing and story make the characters memorable, not their names. As a test, see how memorable these names are, all major characters from famous movies: Malcolm Crowe, Sean Maguire, Calvin Jarrett, Joseph Turner - without searching the internet, who are they? Look at the name Ellen Ripley. What's so special about it? She could be the checker at your grocery store, a nurse, a chef at a restaurant. There is nothing special about the name. What's special about her is the way she steps up to adversity onboard the Nostromo. Don't spend too much time fretting over names. Spend more time on the writing that will make those characters memorable no matter what their names.

Nikki April Lee

The writing is important surely but In my opinion I feel the name of a character is just as important. Especially if we're tying personality to the character's name. I'm sure there are readers out there who judge these sort of things. They probably won't say it.

E.B. Laird

@Dan I have that problem as well. Sometimes I'm re-reading and I have to look twice to remember who was who. Unless you want the name for a specific purpose or it has a meaning to the plot of the film there not of vital importance, especially in the initial stages of the script. You can always change them when your done.

Derek Power

It's a combination of intuition and thought. Naturally I want the name to sound natural and true to the character. But if I can find meaning behind a name, that will make it even a stronger choice.

Ariane Torelli

i always put a lot of research and effort into names for characters because thats an important part that the audience remembers ~ and i find that a lot of the time, when you visit the cinema or watch a movie, and you see a character you automatically stereotype them or associate them with other experiences in your life - which, surprisingly, many of us have similar experiences. If you then add a name that doesn't 'fit' the character, the audience automatically feels that its the wrong name to their personality - and has a harder time adjusting to it its the same in real life, people will mix up your name with some completely different name, or perhaps your friend's name, if they feel your name doesn't match your personality. but thats just my opinion =P

Merlin Fraser

It's nice when the name fits the character, some names just don't work how seriously would we have taken John Wayne if he had stuck to Marion Morrison ? In my books I take a lot of time selecting the names for my characters, nothing too fussy, don't confuse the reader make it easy for them to remember who's who so they can concentrate on the plot.

Edward Case

Sure, and it takes time to find that name that sounds just right to the ear. Of course, it's extra important for period pieces to have names that fit the setting. Otherwise I try to find names that 1) sound good and to a lesser extent 2) express character or theme. One has to be careful about the second part because an audience will be turned off if you lay it on a little thick, like naming your lead "Hero Champion," et al.

Yvonne Hertzberger

As a writer of Old World Fantasy names are extremely important as one of the ways to set the mood of a book. The names must fit the 'time' and the setting so that they feel like they belong there. A mismatch will create a disconnect for the reader.

John Steinmetz

Any professional knows that the essence of any project is in the details!

Peter Bilodeau

I wrote a poem titled "Daisy's Letter" based on a friend's on-again, off-again relationship with her sister. Daisy came to mind because, as my friend told me, one day she loves me, one day, who knows. It was kind of like picking petals from a daisy.

Sonny Dyon

I love the responses on here...I always feel that whatever time I spent deciding on a name isn't a waste because it's back story research...I find out so much of the character as I agonize over the name and when I do decide what I will call my babies, I've learned so much about them--for me, it's all worth it.

Derek Power

I would also add that there are times when the name comes immediately (intuition, then analyze). But then there are times when I have to know a bit about the character and/or story before a suitable name surfaces. I try to make the name meaningful without being too heavy-handed on the symbolism. It should feel natural to the story and to the character.

Nikki April Lee

I agree you guys. I think putting effort into finding the right name for your characters is important. My best examples are Titanic and and Bourne Identity. Had Jason's name been Chuck Bourne, how serious would you take it? Same Rose from Titanic. Had her name been Susie or Lisa would you really really like her. I dunno. To me, names mean a lot to me. Just as much as the story. Characters deserved to be remembered so make it worthwhile.

E.B. Laird

In retrospect if you enjoy a character or a movie the name used is going to stick to you as the perfect name for that character. How many times have you heard someone else was up for a role and after the fact you couldn't see them do it because the other actor was already ingrained in your mind? A character brings out the name not the other way around. There are factors, such as period pieces, ethnicity, comedic names and the such where of course more thought and sometimes research has to be involved, and it's more important for a novel than a script. But for regular scripts coming up with strong names, or cute names that roll off the tongue are enough for me. If it's 2013 USA and the choices are Bob, Bill, Hank or Jason just come up with what sounds best to you. I would never let naming a character slow down my writing process there's always "replace all" after you are done.

Mark Souza

I'm in your camp, E.B. I don't spend a lot of time with names unless it makes sense to (period pieces, stories told in a particular country or culture). Earlier, I listed names of memorable characters with forgettable names just to prove the point that names aren't that important, How the character is written is. Sean Maguire was Will Hunting's psychologist, played by Robin Williams, a memorable role for which he won an Oscar. Malcolm Crowe was the dead child psychologist played by Bruce Willis in "The Sixth Sense." Calvin Jarrett was the father in "Ordinary People" played by Donald Sutherland. And Joseph Turner was the last surviving member of his CIA section after a hit in "Three Days of the Condor."

Bernice Policastro

I agree with Dan G. would never name a mafia character a yuppie name, Just Louie or Tony boy or some nickname. Yes I would have to consider the name. Is it memorable or something someone wants to forget

Kenneth David Swenson

i usually Google the foreign names because i want to make it familiar to them. The rest just sort of pop in, sometimes unannounced.

Other topics in Screenwriting:

register for stage 32 Register / Log In