♦Welcome to another edition of the Open Book Blog Hop!♦
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
Welcome back to another Open Book Blog Hop! The authors included in this ongoing series wish to thank you for your reads. Even more so, we appreciate that you share our writings with friends. If you’re new to the series, welcome aboard. The authors engage and impress weekly. Prepare to become a regular reader.
Names are Everything. I emphasize this because it is so true it often is taken for granted in literary studies as well as by casual readers. Part of that is name meanings can be a bit of a trope-y device. Meaning, that it’s a well-duh, yeah kind of convention in writing. This said, not every writer even considers the meaning or nuances a name can provide a character. Most just like a name and go with it. The name can sometimes provide lucky happenstance when the meaning and the character personality, or the book theme, coincide. However, this shouldn’t just be left to chance. Being a great writer means having depth and writing with thoroughness of intention.
Some critics may feel that that giving characters meaningful names is unsophisticated and a waste of time. Those folks probably don’t appreciate the Easter eggs that filmmakers, comic book artists, game makers, etc. put into their work either. It takes some effort to unpack the intertexts. If you aren’t in the know, they’ll fly right over your head. So, therefore, they want things short and simple.
There’s sense in this argument as far as audience attention spans can be short, and the market is demanding hyper simple and short works to consume, which can also easily be adapted for other media without much effort. Easter eggs like names can bog that process down by making a book denser–more to explain to the reader, or which to allude.
To that, I say, not all books are for all people. Not all art will make meaning for all people. The Easter eggs are meant for a subset who like such brain puzzles, those who are in on the fandoms targeted, and literary enthusiasts who are always looking for more. Names being full of meaning provide a treasure to readers who like to go back and read books over again. The richness of this simple bonus can provide so much in the end.
So, how do I go about finding names? That depends on the type of work I am undertaking. A number of factors come into play: era/time period, setting, location, gender, and personality to name the main directives (mark that down historical fiction writers because boy does it matter). You’re not going to name a Greek Philosopher of the classical age Bob. And, please don’t trust baby name sites all the way. They provide a lot of information, but Hunter wasn’t a first name used in 16th century Europe (or anywhere). It was a surname attached to vocation.
You can really ruin your work by not taking care with names. As stated above, using names out of time would be tragic. You have a lot more leeway with fantasy and science fiction, but high fantasy likes to reflect the Middle Ages. You know what else can ruin your work via names? Choosing made up fantasy names that don’t make use of the linguistic conventions that would inform your world. For instance, Tolkien used a Finnish dialect for his elves. The Riders of Rohan had Norse elements. The Hobbits were as British as their creator.
I’ve been there, trying to come up with a name for an elf and jotting down something like Starla. However, my character isn’t an 1980s stripper from a largely isolated, small town. It’s cute and all, but it doesn’t really fit, and it creates a strain on taking your writing seriously. Ever pick up a book and the main character has a name that your ten-year-old would give their fairy doll? Let’s move away from that and toward something that will have your readers still reading and not rolling their eyes, asking themselves why they’re bothering.
To help, you’ll want to think about what culture(s) are inspiring your world. In my case, the duta are inspired by Hebrew and Hindu mythological figures and culture (including language). My research delved into old texts like the Key of Solomon and the German project that is working on Sanskrit. Then, I determined what each guardian’s role and order was to be. And, then, I had to flesh out those orders with a bit more detail to find out what would be my conventions for them.
If you think that’s too much to undertake, that’s totally up to you as a writer, but I will always follow this process, because it feels more authentic and serious to me and my process. Of course, I also get to learn a lot about history, mythology, and culture in the process. Learning is a bonus, and the greatest part of that bonus is passing that information to others.
I do use baby name resources, too. Vetting that information across several sources is a must, as I mentioned above, because it can be very wrong! Information existing on the internet is not proof that it’s fact. For instance, if they have it defined on one site in a particular way, this doesn’t mean that is the correct origin, usage, and meaning of the name. You’ll want to seek that consensus.
Other things to look for: Names that were once surnames (like our friend Hunter), have found common usage as first names in today’s cultures. Ethnic names for those groups torn from their ancestry are more recent and the reconstruction of their meanings are ongoing. Those you use could lack the historical context sought. You’ll need to consult someone who can answer those questions.
Lastly, if you’re writing something that is culturally sensitive and you’re seeking meanings, it is a wise idea to use a sensitivity consultant to help you reach your goals, especially when you come from a dominant gender/ethnicity. Not only could you look foolish, but you could harm your career and those you intend to support. Yes, they cost money, but money well-invested (if you really care as an ally and want to continue as a writer).
Names do truly matter. Putting in the effort will help your writing sparkle. Trust me when I say that your readers can tell if you’ve cut corners. If you cut corners here, where else aren’t you giving your time? Although you might feel that names aren’t so important as plotting flawlessly and editing strongly, a poorly chosen name can take your credibility down several notches, even if the critics feel it is a simplistic device and raise their noses to it. They’ll be first in line to mock your Starla the minute you name her.
Let’s look at some of the ladies from my work…
Origin: The Latin name Aemilia became Emilia in Italian, and Emily in English. Emily Conrad is of British European descent. “The name Emily is derived from the Roman family name Aemilius. The Aemilius family was a prominent and powerful family in ancient Rome. The name may come from the Latin word aemulus meaning “rival,” or the Greek term aimylos meaning “wily” or “persuasive.”
Popular writers of the period: Emily Dickinson and Emily Brontë — think about Stuart’s desire for his daughter and Hettie to be well-read…
Ranked 167 in 1922. Has attachment to wealthy/powerful families in it’s origins. The name meaning ties in with the idea of clarity. Claire definitely exhibits clairvoyance when it comes to Carsten!
Origin: Hebrew – Key of Solomon – name of member of the host. There are multiple reasons that I chose this name including that I dreamed it and then found it in the Key linked to an important family number and my zodiac sign, which also corresponds to twins. Have I mentioned that these dreams are more than vivid?
I hope that this exhibits the importance and depth of what a name can mean within a book. Although some find it mundane, I find it to be a treasure box just waiting for readers to open up and find all the loot inside. That discovery can be thrilling for them as well as you!
Be sure to click through the links below to see how the other authors handle their naming conventions.