fake names.

Why are fake names a huge struggle for me?

I have spent countless hours scouring the internet for names. For characters, yes, but also for fictional places. I don’t always want to tie a story to a specific place, so I need a generic, non-specific (ideally fake) name for a town or a business or, my current struggle, a lake.

It’s not that I don’t have ideas. I have lists… crazy long lists. But when I plop the names into the story, they sound so… weird. Forced? I don’t know what it is… but nothing sounds right. Even when I go back and read my older work, some of the names (both people and places) just sound off to me.

Do they seem off to everyone else, too? Or is it just me? How can I overcome this? It’s been an issue for as long as I can remember.

Whenever I start a new story, the leading man has the same name. Every damn time. I eventually change it (if I share it… not if it stays only with me). I’ve never posted anything here with that ‘starting‘ name. I feel like it’s just for me. I have no idea how to explain why…

But back to my ‘problem‘… why does every name I choose sound wrong? How the fuck am I going to name this lake without having it sound completely unnatural when you read it?

I’m at a loss… for words. Well, for names… which is totally a problem when I’m trying to write…

©2017 what sandra thinks

About what sandra thinks

Sandra is a writer, blogger, poet, artist, emotional disaster. She thinks far too much and sleeps far too little. Sandra lives in the Northeastern U.S. but dreams of an oceanfront home in Italy, but she would settle for a non-oceanfront home in Italy, too. She loves books, brutal honesty, coffee, and the color black. She hates insincerity, beer, whipped cream, and facebook. And she is uncomfortable talking about herself in the third person.
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58 Responses to fake names.

  1. Have you tried one of those fake name generators? There are a few decent ones out that that I use. In terms of fake names I just take names from TV shows, LOL. It’s not deliberate, but I’ve noticed that I do it a lot.

    Good luck with the writing – I know what it’s like to not know where to begin, continue or end. Why do we put ourselves through such suffering?! Haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh… yeah… I use name generators a lot. Sometimes tv names make me think of those characters too much. But… I don’t seem to have trouble thinking of or finding names… they just always sound weird once I use them. Maybe it’s just me!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It depends on the character, of course, I would not call a character Sheldon if I was a big TBBT fan for instance. It’s more of a ‘heard that name recently and it fits’ kind of thing for me. I think it’s best not to over think it unless the name itself has a great significance in terms of the story. I’ve executed a good old ‘Find & Replace’ with names before, so I get feeling like the name isn’t right, lol!

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Ok. There are two small lakes around us, each with names I think are pretty cool: Harmony Lake and Beaver Lake. Yes, both are real places, but I doubt anyone not from around here has ever heard of either. As for names of people, just use regular ones. When people go with these crazy off the wall names is when they sound forced. Open up a high school yearbook, and pick and combine names. Thoughts? 😃😃

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I wonder if the “fake name” sounds off for you because it is either based off of someone, some place, or something that is real, or if as in the case of your go to leading man name it is just too comfortable or well known to you. Changing from that comfortable or known name would then change the feeling and sound odd. Perhaps finding someone to bounce your “fake names” off of, someone that doesn’t have a person bias toward it would be helpful. Of course, it needs to be someone who you know would tell you if the name you choose really doesn’t work. Anyway, loved your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well… when it is too closely connected to someone who is or was in my life, that’s usually a problem for me so I don’t use those. The leading man thing… I have been trying to change it sooner so I don’t get stuck on ‘secret name’… lol 🙂 I really don’t know why nearly everything sounds weird to me! I’m not even sure if it’s that I’m not choosing good ones or if nothing would sound right to me!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. willowwrites says:

    Many writers name their characters and places to indicate what they stand for or for foreshadowing or hidden meaning.

    Example of location I read yesterday: Lemony Snicket – The Slippery Slope – The name of the mountain is Mt. Fraught – obviously fraught with many woes for the Baudelaire kids.
    Names for characters:
    Darth Vader – means Dark Father in Dutch
    Cruella DeVille – obviously she was a cruel one – 101 Dalmations
    Katniss – katniss plant name that means arrowhead – Hunger Games

    Tons of classic writers used this to name characters and places. It may help you feel more connected to them. It does me.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Marquessa says:

      I do that too!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the suggestion! I’m really not sure… I can try it out. But sometimes I find that the more unusual names sound even more weird to me. I guess those really do feel forced. Maybe not to anyone else, but to me. I’m not sure there’s a solution because I don’t have trouble coming up with names… I have trouble with any of them… no matter how I came up with them… sounding weird. I really wonder if it’s just me…


  5. I always look at baby names for the years my characters were born, just to see what was out there! But sometimes I’m tired of the name I chose after awhile!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. stomperdad says:

    For bodies of water I like to use Native American words 🙂


  7. Marquessa says:

    Lol! Writers problem. I feel you. I can’t continue a story unless the names are “right”. Personally, I’ll think about the character’s “meaning” and then “google”for a “name” that fits…like “Galen” came from researching Hawaiian names and its meaning (which I now forget what it was…). And I made up their hotel name to not make it look like I was endorsing. So I totally agree with @willowwrites!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Meg Sorick says:

    Oh you got some really good suggestions. I do the same thing as Diane, use baby names for the year of the characters’ ages. Plus last names I take from athletes, movie and TV credits (not the actors) Every state in the union has a Springfield. Also how about the names of Saints for bodies of water, mountains and towns. “Sandra lived in the little town of St. Brendan founded in 1698.” St. Francis River, St. Margaret’s Mountain… not all in the same story, though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have an aversion to anything remotely religious. I don’t want to start a controversy, but religion and I do not mesh well.

      Yeah, I have gotten a lot of good suggestions for finding names. But except for looking more into name meanings than I have (but I have…), I’ve done pretty much everything suggested here — name generator, baby names from specific years, tv characters or actors or generic people names like you said from credits or online, obscure musicians… even plants, objects (like, brook/Brooke), etc. I’ve tried it all.

      But I think my problem isn’t coming up with names… I always have a list. I just end up hating them all 90% of the time once I put them into the story. The more I talk about this, the more I think it’s probably just me. I don’t know…

      The lake thing has been a million times harder than people names. Why does ‘Granite Lake’ or ‘Birch Hill Lake’ (stuff that could be around the lake…) or ‘Hodges Lake’ (first one I came up with, no idea where it came from) sound so wrong? They seem good until I put them into the story…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Meg Sorick says:

        Ah well, I don’t use them for religious reasons, I think they sound old and elegant. But that’s cool, I understand. I guess you have that one name in your mind and nothing else will do! Find real names for lakes, then. As long as they aren’t super unique it’s no problem. I don’t know why you think it sounds wrong – the names you chose sound really good to me!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. I use scrivener to organize bigger writing projects (not promoting, just saying), but it has a name generator that helps out emmensely.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I spent a long time trying to think of a name once for the main guy in a story I was writing only to find out it was the same as the nain guy in 50 shades lol I hadnt read the booksnor watched the movie so I had no idea!! I changed it up quick!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really hate when some person or movie or something like that ruins a name for me!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes me too!! I had favourite names picked out for my future children in my early 20’s (evelynn and raife) and then i watched a movie I really like (pearl harbour) and realised the main characters have the same two names. I’m not sure how I feel about that lol but it definitely wasn’t on purpose!

        Liked by 1 person

        • When I was pregnant with my son before I knew he was going to be a boy, I had a girl name picked out in case he was a girl. A woman in my office was pregnant and I found out that she was having a girl and she was using my girl name. I cried for a week! And then I found out I was having a boy. Yay! When I had my daughter almost 3 years later, that woman was long gone from the company and I took my girl name back!

          Liked by 1 person

          • Ooo yes!! I had a friend do the exact same thing! We arent friends any longer (not for that reason) but that is a horrible thing to do if its on purpose! But I’m glad you were able to use it in the end 😊

            Liked by 1 person

  11. I know exactly what you mean about names sounding forced! I question names I choose a lot myself. Something I’ve found helpful is name generators, and for things such as places or lakes, just lots of searching online and piecing words together (or choosing one already existing)… so, it’s not an easy task for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I completely understand what you’re saying. I’ve actually completely avoided naming locations altogether because making up names for locations is difficult for me. I typically just pray that my readers will just imagine the scenes for themselves and still understand the story. In a story I’m currently writing, I made up the name of this farm, and it just didn’t roll off the tongue well. I actually made me cringe ha ha.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I totally understand that! I think names (of people, places, anything) are one of the biggest reasons I re-read everything I write so many times… to get myself used to the names until they sound “right”… although some still never do.

      I often avoid naming places completely as well. I would just call my lake “the lake” but I need a name for a character to refer to…


  13. Being from the land of 10,000 lakes (actually, we’ve got about a thousand more than that), if the lake’s name isn’t otherwise significant (example: Eclipse Lake by Mae Clair is so named because of the effect the setting sun has on the surface), go with mundane. We have in our great state about a dozen Mud Lakes, a dozen Long Lakes, way more than one Birch Lake, and assorted other multiples like Big Lake or Johnson Lake. It’s always interesting to listen to people try to specify just which Mud Lake or Long Lake they frequent 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! By mundane, do you mean it should ideally be something like Long or Mud or Big? Or is a random surname okay? I’m not sure why I’m agonizing over this little detail… it can always be changed… and other than you (the collective you), no one will probably ever read this!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Honestly, I’d say random is fine. I like to gather names that fit the location ethnic background (i.e. northern MN has areas where a lot of Eastern European immigrants lived, and a lot of Scandinavians), and fit the birth years of the character (like, in the 1970s Lisa and Shari were popular). I just went through something like this with my WIP. I picked a name for a main supporting character, and ended up changing it four times before it “sounded” right. I go by what “sounds” right to my ear. In fact, my manuscript’s antagonist had one name through 4 drafts, then my writing sisters insisted his name was WRONG. They helped me find one that worked, and “sounds” a lot better 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you!

          I know exactly what you mean. I look up names that match the ages of my characters either to find a name or to verify that what I’ve chosen isn’t totally wrong. Then, of course, if it “sounds” wrong, I try again anyway.

          What I’m writing now doesn’t really have a particular location. I guess it could be anywhere with a lake… but in my mind, it’s usually the Northeast because that’s where I live… it’s what I know best. There are lots of Native American names here for lakes and parks and things like that. But since the story doesn’t specifically identify a location, that might just be weird. Plus most of those have, like, 25 letters and are impossible to pronounce… too distracting from the story, I think! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  14. Finding the right fit – name for a character can certainly be a challenge. I scour for hours sometimes before I settle on something.

    Liked by 1 person

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