Suppose my fictional character is a plastic penguin which happens to be very pompous. What do you believe is a better way to name a character?

1.A name which describes them physically Ex. Plastic Penguin

2.Or one based on their personality? Ex. Pompous Penguin


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    I'm afraid this question seems far too opinion-based, you could try to edit it to make it less opinion based but it would likely look quite a bit different. – DJ Spicy Deluxe Nov 11 '19 at 2:43

This is an opinion question. My opinion is that people are generally given names. Some later decide to reject their given name, and name themselves, but for the most part it is their parents that decide their name, not them.

All my sisters (and myself) have names given by my parents: One has the same name as my mother, another has a pretty name that means "pretty" in another language, a third was named after a movie character in a movie my parents saw on a date, a fourth name was inspired by a religious figure. None of them changed their names. Me too, I was named after a grandparent.

When I name characters, my MC typically has an unusual name for their social circle, but it will have a logical reason: They were named after an ancestor, or some obscure religious figure, or whatever.

I do "vet" my names by finding out what they originally meant, but I do not try to make my names reflect their personality or role in life, other than they may have been teased about them, or may have attached significance to them on their own. For example, it is documented that many boys with their father's name and "junior" attached are affected psychologically by their own expectations they should be like their father, in particular if they are not. They may rebel and try to be the opposite of their father. Or may strive for their father's acceptance and do what he tells them.

For adult reading, at least, I'd keep names realistic. If you are writing for four year olds, you will have to be more on-the-nose, but even there you can just use a regular name. Henry is a penguin in the Oswald (octopus) children's cartoons. (Oswald is the MC.) Henry has a distinct stuffy, rules-following personality, but none of that is reflected in his name.

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I think the most important way to go about naming a character at it is to think which aspect of the character is more important to the story and how do you want to present it? Choosing either name will give the audience an expectation that the named trait is the key defining characteristic of the penguin and they will expect it to play into the story. This expectation can, however, be used for misdirecting the audience so calling them Plastic Penguin will initially hide their pompous nature.

Are plastic creatures looked down upon in your story world? Has this penguin struggled against this prejudice defining the character they are today meaning they are proud to be plastic? Alternatively is the fact they are plastic inconsequential and their pomposity far more important?

If we look at Little John from Robin Hood mythology this name works on a couple of levels:

  • As a misdirect for a joke given the character's actual size.
  • Given the funny nature it shows the endearment his allies have towards him.
  • Also later fits the theme the bandits are not what they seem, they rob but they give it to the poor.
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