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Creating Character Names

by Dennis M. Myers, 06/26/2019

I'm from Minnesota, and my wife, May, is from Thailand. We live in Virginia and we often go to a local Vietnamese place. The restaurant is owned and run by a Chinese woman with a Japanese name who was born in Viet Nam then raised in America. Our waitress was born in America from Korean immigrants. It seemed to me, in that moment, that this is what America was all about.

That leads me to how I put together character names. I'll use my main example, which is Luna in 3288, the setting of Final Assembly. Some of the character names represent people I know, like Jon Merril. That's my late brother's first and middle name. Vincent Franklin comes from my paternal grandfather. Middle and first names. Tong Sianothai, my brother-in-law's first name, and the last name of our favorite waitress (different restaurant). Plenty examples of where I referenced people I know with a first or last name, here and there. Then there are cases where I wanted something very different. So I would pick two random spots on the globe and find a first name from one, and a last name from the other. Tashi Dema, Evren Boosalis, and Lamisa Tinubu are examples.

One name I created was more carefully thought out. August Monarch. It has a significance in the context of the story that I don't want to spoil. Let's just say I am playing a long game with that guy.

Then there are the names that just jumped into my head. Ellie Lester is one. No idea where that came from. Darren Garfield is another. They just jumped out and started arguing with each other.

My point is, in keeping with my idea that Luna became like America in that it's a melting pot, I tried to reflect the diversity in character names. Even if I didn't show any of those older cultures, I at least nodded and said that they exist. They are a part of my world.

There are few places where I used whole names of real people. The first was Brandon Nunn. May he rest in peace. A tragic loss of a friend. He was far too young. The rest are still alive, and they know who they are. I'll leave it at that.

I suppose I should mention, in an offhand sort of way, that if you know who my favorite band is, you might notice their names popping up in my stories. Not whole and complete, but little bits, here and there.

Another setting I am still exploring is a world populated by a different intelligent species. That was more complex. Here's how I tackled it. First, I decided on the sounds the alien species could make. I set up a generator that would make words based on that. My first run was to create words matching a simplified english dictionary. That gives me a crude language to start with. After fixing places where it didn't work right, I eventually got the generator to give me good, alien sounding words. And sometimes, they were just a little funny. That's why Daksey's brother is Bongeex. It's perfectly reasonable to have that name, given the rules of the language. Just sounds funny in English. I decided that it made perfect sense, because as I learn more Thai, I realize that some American names are very funny to them. I won't go into detail, but the first time we passed a sign for Parham road, May laughed so hard I thought she was having a seizure. Then there's Jim Dawson. Look, I don't want to make anyone worried, but if your name is Jim Dawson, just change it before you go to Thailand. Just do it. And don't ask a Thai person to help you pick a new name. You'll end up introducing yourself as Tiny Sausage.

Conversely, there is a Thai word meaning blessing that ends up in many female Thai names. It's pronounced pawn. Unfortunately, it's transliterated as porn. Nuttaporn is a close family friend. Her nickname used to be Nutt. Then she spent a year in America as an exchange student. She goes by Natt, now, and has removed all reference to her full first name.

Place names were fun, too. On Luna, you get the crater and mountain names all set to go. I just added to them, so there's Moretus Peak, and Moretus Plains. Then Grissom Park. I use Google Translate to find words that sound interesting and make good place names, too. Then there's that huge enclosed aviary where people go to strap on wings and fly. Named that place for the author who inspired the setting. I figure it was built by people who had read his work.

Kigyo Station sounds cool, but it's just the Japanese word for Corporate. I figured the corporate types wouldn't be much more creative about it.

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