Posted by: michellemuldoon | November 14, 2010

Whose Name Is It Anyway?

What’s in a name, right? Well, if you struggle with character names like I do, a lot… a lot of hand-ringing, head-scratching and time lost in a state of general confusion.

I’ve used sites that list popular surnames and first names. Often, if I want a specific nationality, I’ll search  for that particular country on the net, and go from there. It seems to make it easier, but does it add anything personal to the script? Does it make the script feel like its got some heart to it? Um, well, that’s the problem. For a script to resonate for me, the characters need to resonate. And, name searches can be the toughest thing to do, when I’m trying to find my footing with a new script.

I’ve tried having fun with names and taking a thematic spin at picking character names. My script, Pitch Out, includes names like McCoy, Kirk, and Leonard in it. Seriously, if I could have fit Spock in there without looking like too much of a fangirl, I would have.

However,  the thematic route doesn’t feel right. Somehow, it feels like a bit of a cop-out. So, what’s the answer? Is it mining your own history for inspiration? Not for me. I get worried that the real live person who shares the name with the character thinks the character is a derogatory comment on them.

Sometimes, I like to look at the paper for a last name I hadn’t thought of, and then I try to work in a first name that sounds like it flows and doesn’t start with the same letter as another character’s name.

For as many names as exists in the world,  it’s amazing how hard it is to come up with one for “what’s-his-name” or “you-know… her”.

Sometimes, their name is on the tip of my tongue, and sometimes, I feel too tongue-tied to figure it out.



  1. When I’m stuck for a name, I have a baby name book I use. I also save interesting names in a file. When I need a foreign name, I use a saved list of Olympic competitors from the country I want. Then I mix the last and first name of 2 different athletes to get an “original,” but appropriate sounding, name. The phone book is good for last names too.

  2. I love your Olympic competitor approach, very inventive! A name needs to flow for me, too. Welcome to posting on the blog, Nancy. Looking forward to hearing more about how you approach things.


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