Gerald Hanks Filmography

Monday, December 1, 2014

What's In A Name? How Character Names Reveal Character Traits

Too many rookie screenwriters start out with “million-dollar” ideas and big-budget concepts, but with only vague notions on their characters. Unless you're writing a biopic or something “Based on a True Story”, you need to spend time getting to know your characters. A major part of that process is choosing names for your characters.

Expectant parents often research, debate and argue over their child's name for months before its birth. Shouldn't you spend as much time thinking about how to name your “babies” in your script?

Character Name Generator
A fun place to start is the “Character Name Generator”. This site gives you a form to select your character's gender, ethnicity and birth decade. The page generates a name, personality type and random psychological profile according to the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). While the data here may not fit your initial ideas for your character, it does provide a useful starting point.

First Names
Keep in mind that your character's parents choose their child's name for specific reasons. Also remember that your character may choose to use a different form of his or her given name, while showing discomfort at other forms. The stuffy aristocrat named “Arthur” may flinch at being called “Art” or “Artie”. Each form of a given name can also reflect an aspect of your character's personality.  For instance,“Richard” is all business, but “Richie” is the life of the party, and “Rick” is a hit with the ladies.

Just as your character doesn't choose his given name, he also should not get to choose his nickname. Nicknames can come from a wide range of sources, some welcome and some less so. The character's reaction to their nickname can reveal aspects of that character to the audience. One famous example shows how Henry Jones, Jr., had a stronger childhood bond with the family dog than he did with his absentee father, so he took the dog's name as his own: Indiana.

Family Names
A character's family name can also reveal facets of his personality, as family names often contain aspects of that family's history. A working-class family may have a name that suggests hard work, such as Baker, Carter, or Miller. Names taken from British cities and counties can suggest an upper-class background, such as Essex, Somerset, or Warrington. A family name tied to an identifiable ethnic group or nationality can give your character a historical and traditional background that can serve as either a place of comfort or a source of conflict.

Names as Shorthand
As unfortunate as it sounds, readers, producers, and agents will make snap judgments about your characters based on their names. If you choose to name your ass-kicking action hero “Myron Kaufmann” and your cowardly accountant “Ace Hardcastle”, you'll have a harder time selling your script. Think about the first impression that your character's name gives to an audience, then you can choose either to go with that expectation or cut across the grain for more impact.

About Story Into Screenplay
Story Into Screenplay offers one-on-one consulting, either in person at our Houston location or through online sessions. We can work with you in developing your story structure and finding the unique facets that can turn your idea into a script that grabs the attention of agents, producers and directors.

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