Thursday, January 7, 2021

What's in a Name?

Like a lot of authors, I like to put some time into creating individual characters for my story. The first step in always figuring out what their name is. I don't like to pick a name at random. Often times, I will spend a few hours browsing baby namer websites for the perfect name based on meaning, pronunciation, ethnic background, and personality. But does the name of a character influence who they'll become in the course of a story? I think it does.

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In my dark fantasy series, 'The Book of Siavon', I spent a lot of time working out the names of my main characters. Being that the world is set an a medieval, fantastical landscape, I wanted the characters to have heavy Irish, Latin, and British influences on their names. Keavy, the heroine of the series, was the hardest to come up with. I wanted something easy to say, but also different enough that you wouldn't confuse it with any characters from other novels. I landed on this particular name by browsing a Gaelic name database. It means gentle, beautiful, or precious (though in the series, I have her saying her name means "Lady of the hearth"), which is the kind of person I pictured Keavy as. 

Another way I name characters is through science. Often times, non-human characters and creatures in my fantasy stories draw their name from some sort of real world Latin name for the animal in which I have based them on. Linnaeus Marcus Tulley is a prime example of this. He is of a race called the catfolk, which are basically half-cat, half-human sentient beings who populate the mythical world of Aryth, (which I named as a variation of Earth). Linnaeus came from the name, Carl Linnaeus, who was a Swedish scientist who studied botany and zoology. He also was the person who came up with the scientific name, Felis catus. You guessed it, he gave cats their name. It was a little nod to the field of science, which the character of Tulley studies, as well to his species influence. I didn't expect many people to pick up on it, but those that did probably got a little kick out of it like I did.

I also sometimes use the meaning of names as a form of foreshadowing in the story. For instance, someone who is a werewolf might have a name that means 'wolf' or 'change.' I try to do this subtly to keep from spoiling the story, so it's usually not too obvious. I mostly do this for my own entertainment, but people interested in linguistics might pick up on it.

Naming characters is a lot like naming real children. You want it to fit their personality and be something they can grow with as the story progresses, but you also just want it to sound right in the reader's head and be something that isn't too hard to pronounce. That's why I spend so much time obsessing over what names to use and where. It's a lot of fun, and believe it or not, one of the easier aspects of creating a whole person for a book, even if it takes a while. 

How do you name your characters? Tell me about it!

Stay weird.

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