Jan 08 2008
This article presents six tips about what works and what usually doesn’t when you’re naming your superheroes and villains. Find out why Mischief-Man is much worse than Mayhem.
1. Especially if you’re writing for an older audience, [Adjective] [Noun] probably isn’t the most name for a superhero, particularly if the noun is Man (or Woman or Girl or Boy or Lad). It’s outdated. If you want to create Strong-Man anyway, I suggest removing the hyphen (Strongman). The hyphen looks bad and forces an awkward-looking second capital letter. Most Readers Are Not-Fond Of Unnecessarily-Capitalized-Words And Hyphen-Phrases.
2. In the modern era, the most effective names are usually nouns or [Title] [Noun], like Dr. Octopus. Compare Dr. Octopus to “Octopus-Man” or Venom to anything you could do with “venomous.” Nouns are usually more evocative and feel less goofy than adjectives.
3. I would recommend staying away from animal names, especially [Animal]-Man. It’s a mostly-outdated convention–it worked for Batman in 1939 and Spider-Man in 1962, but new characters in the past 25 years haven’t used it much.
4. It’s still remotely acceptable to do [Rank] [Noun]. Captain America is the best example. However, [Rank] [Adjective], like Captain Stupendous, is usually awful. Please note that names with ranks often feel goofy, particularly when you do puns with “Major” and “General.”
5. The name’s most important role is to develop the character. Let’s say your character’s key trait is being noble or moral. If you named him Moral-Man, readers would hate that. On the other hand, Luke Skywalker worked quite well. For more tips on making emotionally effective names, please see this article on naming superheroes.
6. How do people refer to your hero in casual conversation? “Hey, Mr. Fantastic!” sounds awkward. “Hey, Richard” sounds much more natural, but that only works if everybody knows what your hero’s first name is. If your character’s identity isn’t public, you still have options. For example, the character might be referred to by his rank. “Hey, Cap’n!” beats calling him Captain America all the time, although it’s not as natural as a given name. Alternatively, the character might make up a fake name (e.g. “I’m Captain Carnage, but you can call me Jim”) or other characters might shorten his name for casual conversation (e.g. shortening Spider-Man to Spidey).
7. Finally, I recommend a name that makes strong use of sounds. B, M, F, and R sound firm but not menacing. K, V, X and H sound harsh. A, O, S, L, and U sound smooth and lofty. Finally, readers usually prefer names that string stressed syllables, like Superman, Carnage and Spiderman.