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How To Succeed in Animation

Chapter 9: What's in a Name?

Creating the right name for a cartoon character can be a key* to its success. A clever name can often lead you to develop a clever character. Or maybe you have a great idea for a character, but you’re hung up trying to think of its name.  You need a name that’s easy to pronounce, unique and copyrightable, inherently appealing, strong, or funny in itself.  A great, original name will attract positive reactions even before people know what or who it is!

I’ve been up against the problem many times. There’s no sure-fire guide to character naming.  It’s often an inspiration out of the blue, but here’s a weird clue:

There is a theory that in American English, a name with a K sound in it is a key to success!  The most successful, and most widely adopted, purely American word of all time, is “OK.” (or “Okay!”) It’s used and understood in almost every country in the world!  Few know its origin, but everyone knows what OK means.

In advertising, words like clean, quick, quality, comfort, discount, cash, crunchy, care, maximum, bank, color, all with K sounds, are endlessly used.

Some of the most powerful names in history and legend include a K sound: Christ, Columbus, King Kong, Sherlock Holmes, Santa Claus, Tutenkamen, Kubla Kahn, Citzen Kane…

An amazing number of the most powerful patented product names in history include a K sound: Coca Cola, CrackerJack, Kodak, Kodachrome, Kleenex, Kix, Microsoft, Mac, MacDonald’s, Cadillac, Facebook, Linked In, Wikipedia, Skype, Oscar, Technicolor, Ikea, Country Life, Cash & Carry…

In industry, we have K-Mart, Exxon, Klondike, Imax, Canon, Ikea, Crump. If a soft drink named Quensh, Kwensh does not exist, perhaps it should!

Look at Mickey Mouse, My Little Kitty, Dinky Duck, King Kong, Dracula, Frankenstein.

My own characters with the K sound were Tom Terrific, Nudnik, Clint Clobber, and Crabby Appleton. (I think that was my greatest name!)

So, if you come up with a memorable name, the name itself will start you thinking what kind of a character goes with the name!

Try, Klinkle, Bronk, CandyMan, Korkle, Dink, Nukkel, Frekkel, Blinky, Rinkle, Krooze, Flunk, Drinken, Klunk, Docter Prockter, Slinkk, Skink, “Cheezy” Krakkers.

OK, maybe none of this K stuff doesn’t ring your bell.  If K doesn’t click with you, you have 25 other letters to play with, but the K sound does seem to have some magic to it.

Here are some other wacko character names I thought up without regard to the K sound, but which seem funny and evocative to me, and may well inspire you to use the same gimmick.

Do try this at home: Take well-known phrases, jigger the spelling to give you something you can copyright.  Have a ball:

Marshall Artz, Greta Garbage, Shermann Oats, Fodder Figger, Yurz Trooley, Carmen Sentz, Pearl Handelle,  “joint” Payne, “Smelly” Fartz,  Dyma Duzzin, “Klassy” Dayme, Ittzah Bummer, Haffa Loaf, Lottza Lukk, Ono Nottagenn.

Luckily, the English language offers nearly endless fiddling with fanciful spelling to get the same sounds.  I give you these cute names absolutely free.  They’re worth every penny!

Whatever name you give your character, think of what it evokes. Make it easy to say and to remember, and above all, make it unique – a name that can be nothing else but your character!  Avoid generic words, which cannot be patented.  Don’t name your character “Frog,”  “Dog,”  “Cat.” (I did that!  Only The CAT” can be copyrighted, and only if it doesn’t refer to a feline.) That mistake happened with the famous Czech character, “The Mole,” which is a mole!  Only the full name, “The Little Mole” is copyrighted, and I can tell you that even that is disputable!

*Note that in writing his article, I completely unconsciously used the words, Create, Clever Cartoon, Character, Copyright, Clue, Click, Key, Magic, Attract, Success, Unique, Luckily, Think, American…, all those in addition to the K-sound words &  names I used as examples.

Gene Deitch, August 2013

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