What’s in a Name: World Cup Edition

Like many other Americans, I’ve been passively watching the World Cup for the past week. And by “passively,” I mean I’ve had it on in the background while cooking, watching the U.S. team’s games, and sort of paying attention when there’s a news story about what’s going on there. I’m a life-long sports lover and my kid plays soccer, so you know, it’s interesting enough for me, even if I’m not a diehard fan or anything.

Sometime during the past few days, an old newspaper friend of mind mentioned a story she’d like to see would be on the announcers and how they learn to pronounce such ethnically diverse names in preparation for the World Cup. It’s a good question. Those announcers know big picture about soccer better than almost anyone in the world, but that doesn’t automatically mean they know off-hand how to say the last name of some bench-rider from every qualifying country.

This got the writerly part of me thinking about names. Specifically, last names.

Because I write crime fiction, usually with a detective protagonist, I tend to have my characters call each other by their last names quite a bit. It’s natural and normal and makes things more accurate, in my opinion.

But this also means I need last names that work easily over and over again. Ones that are different from each other, but not so unusual that it stops the reader or makes them constantly wonder how the name is pronounced.

And even though it sounds strange, I find venues like the World Cup a perfect chance to find diverse names to use at a later date. I also love using other sporting events — the NCAA Tournament, the Super Bowl, all the tennis majors, etc. — for this purpose. If I hear a name I like, I write it down, and keep it in mind for later. I realize that some people like to use cemeteries or riff off favorite characters in books or movies as inspiration for character names as well, but somehow, sporting events always get me.

How do you choose names for your characters?

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8 thoughts on “What’s in a Name: World Cup Edition”

  1. Sometimes I read a name, sometimes I use Scrivener’s random name generator and go through the list until one “sounds” right. Quite often, the character will tell me his/her name. Which is slightly disconcerting. =)

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  2. Great idea, using sports names! I usually flip through the phone book (yep, I keep one around) until I find the right name.

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  3. Honestly, I often don’t know where they come from (like Mary, I find that they arrive with the character quite often, though I have changed some “manually” during the writing process for various reasons) but I did read somewhere that you weren’t supposed to have too many character names beginning with the same letter so I do pay attention to that.

    Interesting post, Sarah!

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  4. Cynthia has a point – I do try to avoid too many names with the same first letter (just had to change a manuscript for this).

    Theresa, I love Scrivener. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I love the fact that I can store all of my character and location descriptions, pictures, web links, and various notes all in a single place. No more lost stuff!

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  5. Theresa, too funny! I turned a synopsis in to my editor, and after she accepted it I had to tell her that I’d changed 2 character names. I don’t know where my character names come from, but usually once I hit upon the right name, I can’t change them.

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