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Penski
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PostSubject: Names of People and Places   Fri Apr 27, 2012 8:26 am

From nm131

I find myself, when writing fanction, spending an inordinately long time choosing names for people and places. In fact it is one of the hardest tasks of writing for me. For place names, I look at maps and at old west Ghost Town websites. I do an internet search for pictures, if applicable, since I have been up and down both US coasts but visited very few locales in the middle. My first hand knowledge is extremely limited, so that it is difficult to incorporate real geographical features in my descriptions. It is noticable to some extent when the author has been somewhere they are writing about. For example, in Ghislaine's work her trip last summer has made a positive impact on her already well written stories.

People's names are even harder. Several people have posted websites that have listings of 19th century names and that is what I use most often. I also tend to adopt versions of names of people I know. It is a good thing they don't read ASJ fanfiction because some of them have been uncomplimentary characters. Some authors have a real gift for choosing authentic old west individaul names and it contributes to the overal tone of the story.

I was wondering how people go about choosing character and place names for their stories?

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#1
Eleanor W


I don't spend much time researching place names, I tend to randomly select names of towns that were in existence in the 1800's (from a copy of an old map dating from that time period) in whatever part of the country I set my story. As for character names, I tend to just pluck one out of mid-air that I think will fit the type of character I'm writing - depending if the character is good/bad - but obviously in keeping with the range of names that were commonly used back in those days; I doubt they routinely used names like Zoe or Petula, or Kai or Jet in the 1800's. It's not often I use much geographical detail, but I have travelled widely in the USA and so have a basic knowledge of the type of terrain in various parts of the country, and if I need to mention any specifics, then I just look up what I need to know online.

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#2
Remuda


Great topic, NM! First, I didn't know there were websites out there with 19th century names in them. Would love if you could post a link to a few of them.

Names for me come both easy and hard, depending on the day, time, and mood I'm in while writing; that is, sometimes a name, especially for a person, will pop into the brain and sound plausible, while at other times, I'll think of something and have to research it a bit first before using it.

For place names, I tend to use mostly real locales, ofttimes places I've visited or passed through, and I'll do a little research to make sure they were around at the time Heyes and Kid were. As with you and others, I've done a lot of traveling around the country (46 states under the belt), especially back roads, and have a reservoir of experiences from which to choose (including spending a week on a real working ranch in Montana). I try to incorporate the "feel" I recall from whatever geographic location I'm trying to use (although not always successfully, at least to my satisfaction), and that "feeling" sometimes drives a plot in one direction or another, and might yield more ideas for names in the process, albeit not always "real" places (e.g., in my first challenge story, I tried to describe the southern Montana landscape and marry it to a deserty feel, and in doing so, came up with a couple of place names just as words fell together).

As well, just researching while writing sometimes renders names I've never heard of before. I tend to write with research sources open online, at least both a dictionary and resource site for the topic needed, and find this helps immensely with getting details correct in the first draft. Again, sometimes reading the dictionary will throw a few words or sentences together, and yield a character or place name.

Further, just about anything in real life can offer up ideas. I always carry a small notebook in my purse and will jot down names, images, and ideas I see while going about my daily business, and review it later. You never know where or what will spark that creative idea.

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#3
Ghislaine Emrys


Good question, nm, and for the compliment about my stories. I like using names and places that are as authentic as possible.

For place names, I, too, check the ghost town website: http://www.ghosttowns.com/
Sometimes, I'll then do a web search for more information about a name.

For people's names, I check the websites below, in the order they're listed, but mostly I just use the first one. However, the more I write the harder it gets and, because I don't want to use names that have a strong association with ASJ--so, for example, I'd never use Annabelle or Lurene or Artie--or are well-known in fandom, which means names like Kate or Elizabeth or O'Reilly are out, the possibilities are becoming fewer and fewer. Anyway, here are links to websites I've used to search for names:

http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~poindexterfamily/OldNames.html

http://www.galbithink.org/names/us200.htm

http://www.babynamesgarden.com/victorian.aspx

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#4
Max


Ooooh nice topic.

I think I'm with most of the folk here in trying to stick to the lists of 'Common US christian names in nineteenth century' for first names...

Though I guess you can get away with out of the way names if it sounds like the chap was named after a place or an ancient.

(After all, Hannibal wasn't up there in the top ten.)

Place names... the map, or stuff that just sounds ordinary Western, (how many Red Rocks WERE there)
OR - I slip in streetnames of where I've lived in past, or something very English, just to make myself smile.

Surnames... sometimes here I have a little fun. In one story the villains all have surnames which are small towns / villages in a narrow radius in Derbyshire. Just to see if anyone notices.
OR, minor characters have the surnames of writers I admire - just to see if anyone twigs.
OR, I use a pin in a newspaper and use the closest surname.

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#5
Iona Graham


I try to chose well known names from the bible, or I have used the christian name of a wife of one of the Presidents for one of my characters. The surname of the sheriff in my Haunted story was taken from Aleister Crowley since it had links to the Halloween theme.

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#6
silverkelpie


Interesting topic! I spent 24 years working all over the USA and I've used place names that have either stuck in my mind (like a tiny, rural town called Paris), or those which seem to be kind of generic and seem to pop up in quite a few places. I also noted that many places in the USA tend to be named after the towns that many of the immigrants came from so I also use names of small towns and villages from the UK, Ireland and Europe.

As for people's names I hope no-one I've worked with reads these....... especially when I've made then the baddy! I do play with them though and change them slightly.

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#7
Penski ASJ


Places - I name towns after Presidents (i.e. Lincoln, Jefferson) and after CA gold rush towns (i.e. Plymouth, Drytown, Whiskeytown, Murphy). I do not spend a lot of time researching the area of Wyoming, Colorado, or other ASJ places. And I occasionally use real towns in those states, but it's fiction so use fiction names. I'm looking forward to going to Denver this summer to see what the landscape does look like.

Names - I usually use the site that Ghislaine listed - http://www.galbithink.org/names/us200.htm - for first names and use Biblical names. For last names, I use Presidents' last names (Jefferson, Jackson, Hayes, Pierce, Carter) or co-workers' / friends' names that sound fairly comma.

Guess what I'm trying to say is ... as a reader, places and town's names and people's names don't make or break a story for me. Sure, it's great to have historical notes and accuracy, but I enjoy stories that do not have it, too. Maybe put a few first names in a bowl and a few last names in another bowl and pick from each. And there's your name.

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#8
Giddy Up


You all seem to do so much research, I'm amased.
I've never been in USA and the only place I know pretty good would be Nevada (I watch CSI: Las Vegas a lot).

When I try to come up with places I use Google maps and just pick some small town without taking any time to research if it was around during ASJ. When it comes to name I just make them up.
I suposse my stories isn't geographicaly nor historcally correct...

Does that make me a bad writer?

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#9
Frankie ASJ


Hey Giddy up - a bad writer is someone who writes badly - so that's not you! I've not spent much time in the USA either.

I use a big, fat atlas ( an actual book!) to find place names so I know they're in the right location. Just glance over and one usually jumps out at me as being the right one.

As for people's names, those take a little more time as they have to fit the character I have in my head. I use some of the reference sites mentioned but it may be a name I've found in a book or TV programme that fits. I liked the name King in The Luck of the Draw - thought it fitted the character and made a statement, without being too obvious - I think!

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#10
Giddy Up


Frankie - I used an atlas at first too but the state borders were badly marked. An atlas is better than Google maps because you can't see the terrain so good.

I think my names has a more modern feeling to them although I try to use "old" names.

===========================


#11
sister grace


I'm really enjoying reading all the comments on this topic. Great idea to start it, nm!

As for names of places, I occasionally use real places, such as Sheridan, WY or Mackinac Island, MI, etc. but sometimes I just pick a name that sounds western, like Pine Ridge, CO. Maybe it's my mood at the time I'm writing.

I spend much more time on character names. Usually MUCH thought goes into that process for me. Sometimes I choose a name for a character based on its meaning, or its Biblical significance. (Rachel and Jeremiah Bauer)

Other times, there is a person/place/event/situation from real life that has made an impression, (good or bad) strong enough that his/her/its name, or a hodgepodge mix of the name, is used. (Wilson Lawrence III, Calvin Ford, Mel Bailey, Ben Griffin, Wes Manning.)

Sometimes there is significance in a character's initials. And sometimes I just plain like how the name rolls off the tongue, but it is very RARE that I name a character without a reason. OH! And sometimes you'll find names of some of my favorite hockey players mixed in there! (Henrik, Ms. Michaels...though I have not as yet, used the names Yzerman, Hull or Howe, making mental note for next story.)

And...don't be surprised to find some of YOUR names have been mixed in from time to time too!

===========================


#12
Storm R


Lover reading everyone's comments - great topic nm. I too find it very difficult to pick names. There for a while I was only coming up with name begining with "J" - I have no idea why. I look at lists of names and still have trouble sometimes - especially surnames. Some of my neighbors have found there way into a story or two. As for locations - mine are mostly made up; many times with some sort of geographic feature in the name - Fall, Lake, Rock.... I have looked at ghost towns but if they don't fit where I want the story to take place, I create a name that will.

I'll have to go back and reread your stories Grace to see if I can pick out any hockey players. Now if you had used Yzerman, I would have remembered that one. I probably would have picked up on Howe too but figured I would have missed a Mrs. Hull.

===========================


#13
Fortitudine


For place names (except Drury Springs, which everyone knows was a joke...right? right?) I dig out the ol' Rand McNally Road Atlas that hasn't been used for much of anything since Google Maps came along. I've been sticking around the Four Corners/New Mexico/Panhandle country for a while but maybe I'll mosey back up north next story. If there is a next story. Right now my head feels like someone sawed off the top and filled my cranium with sand.

For people names, I use a lot of real people. Good thing my circle of preferred acquaintances is fairly...um...wide.

===========================


#14
Remuda


Didn't want to start a new topic for this, as it seems a natural progression from place names, but just curious how or why we choose a particular place to add in a story. If need triggers a special place (for example, San Francisco because that's where Soapy or Silky resides), that's one thing. But what if place didn't otherwise matter? For instance, I was just re-reading something I wrote a while back, and noticed I had written in a town that exists to this day. The place only needed to have a hot climate, which it does, but it could have been any locale with a warm/hot climate, not that particular one. So, what, if anything, drives your choice of a particular location for a story?

===========================


#15
Cattle Annie


I find, like the others, that I use names from people I know - or a variation of their name. I think as long as it doesn't sound too outrageous then your fine. One thing I have noticed is not a lot of nicknames. If you look at most historical accounts of the west they seemed to have a lot of nicknames. So, I think you could even make names up - Big Nose John, Little Ears Tommy, Buckaroo Sam...

Places ~ I don't think I have ever used an actual place name that exists, well maybe someplace like Denver or Cheyenne but not when trying to find a place for them to stay for the night. Having driven from east to west and back again about 14 times in the last year along Interstates 80, 90 and 70 I can tell you there are a lot of town names that sound pretty made up. I have come across towns close to where I grew up in Ohio out in the middle of nowheresville Nebraska as well as Dueul County - go figure! Again, I don't shoot for any kind of historical accuracy in a name as it seems like they either don't exist anymore and some towns actually changed their names during WWII (didn't want something that sounded too German).

I do appreciate a writer that can better describe the terrain in a certain locale more than I care about the name - we are writing fiction. It does kind of distract me from a story if someone is describing an area that I have been to - and I've been to a lot - and it doesn't sound even close (although I can't think of anyone of our wonderful authors that have done that so Bravo! to all).

Okay so that's all I got to say about that. Hope it helps and please don't let want of a name or town name to stop your stories.



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PostSubject: Re: Names of People and Places   Tue May 14, 2013 8:13 am

bump Bumping this thread since we have some many new folks. Besides, some of us "old" folks may have changed our minds.

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PostSubject: Re: Names of People and Places   Tue May 14, 2013 12:18 pm

Penski -- thanks for bumping this. I remember reading this thread when I first joined and started writing and found it useful/interesting.

Place names -- while on occasion I'll use a real place name, I rarely want the specific location to be a key part of a story so usually I make them up. I'll either go with a common name in the U.S. (did you know there are something like 53 Fairviews in the U.S. -- so more than one per state) or just make one up. There are (or were before the U.S. postal service started standardizing it some) some very odd town names in the U.S., especially in the West and south -- (Why Not, NC anyone? -- and let us not forget the great towns of Manly, Fertile, and Intercourse, Pennsylvania) -- Dry Gulch, Jackass Flats, etc. that you can make anything up so I usually choose something that seems to fit the mood of the story I'm writing. Every once in a while I'll locate a story in a real town but not often because I don't want to have to make sure I am historically accurate on the town (with the exception of Toadsuck -- and that's just because I love the name).

Names -- generally I stick with names (usually anglo) that were relatively common at the turn of the century for first names; sometimes I pull from family history and I've trolled the social security administration's website that lists popular names back to to sometime in the 1800s. Last names are just ones I've heard over the years that stick with me and that seem appropriate to the story. Frequently I'll look for something a little unusual but that fits -- and I may change the spelling if I pull from someone I know.

Can't say I do much research for either, but if I run across something in my general reading it may well stick (I have such a trivial mind -- kind of like a crowded attic full of worthless nonsense) and I'll use that. There are so many of you on this site who have a far deeper knowledge of western history (or even Hollywood western culture) and geography than I do that I generally go for plausibility but not factual accuracy and try to avoid getting very specific on such things.
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PostSubject: Re: Names of People and Places   Tue May 14, 2013 12:42 pm

Good question, let's see if I can answer!

Names of people: I think with 'Feud', I actually picked the names as they were in the comic the story was based on. Embarassed I'd have to check to be sure though. As for first names... it's set between two rivaling Irish families. So... googled ' Irish baby names' and picked names from the lists that appeared. Usually I try to picture in a particular role because it helps me building the character. Morgan the bartender was inspired by Paul Newman's character in The Sting, Henry Gondorff.

Place names: I hardly ever pick place names. So Heyes and Curry could be pretty much anywhere. Which is very convenient for me because that way US readers can't correct me afterwards. Very Happy
In White Knight, they chased a band of actors but other than Denver and a vague town of Two Springs, I don't think I didn't really set out a route of the chase. In the boatrace story, it's going to be tricky because now I either have to be very accurate when it comes to place names or else the story won't make sense. The story that inspired me, only mentions a couple big places. But I've yet to figure out how long it takes to travel between A and B. Because it's several weeks, I wonder it'd make sense for Heyes and Curry to stay on the boat for so long. So that one will take a lot more research than I usually do.
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PostSubject: Names & Places   Mon Jan 13, 2014 11:28 am

Names: I try to stick to fairly common names often using the lists on 19th century names if I want something a bit more unusual. But, my most common way to quickly choose names is I will check Civil War Solider lists and simply randomly choose. I do try to make sure the names I choose within a story are not to similar to each other or too famous as to avoid any confusions. Sometimes I use first names out of my own genealogy base as I know the accurate to the time century and they pop into my head easily enough. So I suppose I have many ways I choose names. But, this part always happens quickly for me.

Places: this will take me longer as I try to be accurate. I will often write and come back later and insert the name of a place after I have finished in this way I know what I have written and what my scenery is and I can go find the appropriate name within maps/history. For example: in my story Best Medicine...I knew from history their were raids to the Aubry KS area so this is what I used as a basis for the closest town to their home and know KS history (being a native) I made Valparaiso in Weston MO because KS didn't even become a state until 1861 so if there were any orphanages here they would have been small squalid affairs. I felt Weston was a good location because it was close to Kansas Town and St. Joseph and was a bustling town in itself. But in reality I am betting the nearest good sized orphanage was probably in Jeffersonville or St. Louis. So I don't let history dictate me that far but I let it keep a good handle on me.



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PostSubject: Re: Names of People and Places   Fri Jan 17, 2014 9:24 pm

Sometimes I use real places - sometimes where I've been, but generally not. I just haven't been to that many places out west. But I've spent time in Colorado - therefore I make sure of that. And sometimes I invent names for small places. It just depends upon the needs of the story. Think of all the made up place in the original series! But in some cases the real history of a real place can be inspirational.

For people, a few of them are real (like governors and some people associated with institutions), but many are invented. I've had fun using the last names of various artists, but I've mostly given them different first names. It helps me to make sure to vary the names, some well known and some, in the USA at least, more obscure.
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PostSubject: Re: Names of People and Places   Mon Jan 20, 2014 8:17 am

Fun topic!

Depending on what I need for a particular story, I try to use real places.  I'll make up a town if I have to but I still try to place it in an area I know so that I have a clear picture in my mind of what the topography looks like.  I keep an atlas in my desk and I'll refer to it a lot to see if my routes are feasible.  I.E.  is there a mountain range or river that would need to be crossed and, therefore, add days to the trip? What towns/cities are along the route and did they exist in the mid-late 1800's?  I rely on Google to provide further information about the towns.

I try to set trips from place to place against real time for the transportation that is being used.  Horses can easily cover 30-40 miles a day.  A human can cover 30 miles when pushed. Here's a link that I found very useful providing averages for many different types of transportation:

 http://www.terryburns.net/How_fast_could_they_travel.htm

Whenever possible, I'll use real buildings such as hotels, saloons, train depots, Western Union offices if I can prove to myself that they existed and were in service in the correct time frame.  If it's a building I'm familiar with, I'll describe it in detail.

As for names for people, they simply pop into my head while writing.  The characters pretty much name themselves.  I don't consider whether or not a name was popular in that time frame because, as we all know, certain parents throughout history have had a penchant for giving their children unusual names!

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PostSubject: Re: Names of People and Places   Tue Jan 21, 2014 7:42 am

People: I get ideas from a lot of different places. Some characters are named after my dead relatives. Some characters get their names from a video or tv show I've seen, or an article. For example: in the virtual season story I did, I named a character Suetonius. That came from watching an episode of "Who Do You Think You Are" from England. The TV star profiled in that episode had two ancestors in the 18th + 19th centuries named Suetonius. It's from the Latin tradition, of course. I liked that name. It seemed like the kind of name that would get passed down in the family, no matter how badly the people might hate it. And it makes for a good joke. So that worked.

Places: Either from the series, places I've been, places I've wanted to visit, or places I've seen in a video or heard of elsewhere. In a story I'm currently writing, I've managed to put an elderly, retired Kid Curry into Union Pier, Michigan. I like Union Pier, and I've been there several times. Write about what you know, right?

I'm doing a challenge story right now that will take place in Yuma, Arizona, and that is from one line in the series. I did a little internet research on Yuma in the 1800's and found a couple very interesting facts. They will come in handy.

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PostSubject: Re: Names of People and Places   Tue Jan 21, 2014 2:48 pm


Interesting ideas, InsideOutlaw and RosieAnnie.  sm  Unfortunately, your link did not show up, at least on my screen, IO; can you please post it again? RA, I visited Yuma summer before last and I agree, it's a very interesting place; since my visit, I've wanted to set a story there but, alas, haven't gotten to it yet (I need an idea first and then time to write it).

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PostSubject: Re: Names of People and Places   Tue Jan 21, 2014 5:07 pm

Ghislaine: I added it again, but it's still not an active link. Here it is again.

http://www.terryburns.net/How_fast_could_they_travel.htm

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PostSubject: Re: Names of People and Places   Tue Jan 21, 2014 6:14 pm


Thanks, IO! I now see it in your earlier post and also in the later one where it is live. I've bookmarked it on my computer; I'm sure it'll be useful should I ever get back to writing again.

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PostSubject: Re: Names of People and Places   Sun Feb 02, 2014 10:16 am

I'm finding it hard to believe it's four years since the last Winter Olympics.

It was whilst I was watching it that I got the inspiration for the name of the bounty hunter in my contribution to that month's story challenge.

Whistling Bob Slayer.
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