Thursday, July 22, 2010

What’s in a name?

Post 7/22/10

The title of my post certainly is not original. In fact, it is a cliché. The creator of this sentence was none other then William Shakespeare. We give him credit because he was the first person to write it down on paper. But it is always possible that he heard someone say it. Names were far more important in his day. Though what boy wants to be called? Use your imagination here.

For a writer, creating a character’s name takes on a whole different meaning. We want a name that draws people into the story, a name that defines our character, a name that will speak to us and hopefully to the reader. In my case, I also want a name I like, but one that I would never give to one of my children. It might give them a complex if I named them after a character I created.

I investigate the origin and meanings of names. For example, Healden is Teutonic and means 'brave protector.' On the down side, people struggle with its pronunciation. I never have because my niece is named Heather and no one calls her heat-her, so why would anyone call Healden, heal-din? Get it?

My villain is named Renwyk, which is also Teutonic and means 'where the ravens nest.' Ravens are carrion birds. In other words they eat decaying flesh, a truly nasty way of obtaining food. They are also intelligent. Ravens will follow hunters in the woods because they know that once the kill is skinned and the meat taken away there is something left for them. So Renwyk seemed fitting to denote that my villain is all about himself and will do whatever it takes to get his way regardless of the pain or hurt it causes others.

For my heroine I wanted something average. Why, you may ask? Because she becomes someone else in the story, she grows up into her true self. I also wanted something that you might hear on any given day while walking down the street. I came up with Missie, a common nickname for many young girls. Her given name is much more mature, Michelle. I love both names, but I wouldn’t give either as a first name to my daughters. Missie is not even listed in my naming resource book. Michelle has two meanings, one is ‘house storyteller,’ that seems appropriate, and the other is Hebrew and means, ‘close to God.’

Names capture the imagination. We may know someone with that name, or we may say that is so much like so and so. On the flip side, there are writer’s that choose names I’ve never heard of before, like ‘Sookie,’ now one of the top twenty names given baby girls in 2010. (Not familiar? A truly great read: The Sookie Stackhouse series, also known as ‘True Blood’ on HBO).

I have read fantasies with names I couldn’t spell or pronounce. I wondered at the time if that was a good idea.

Do you have a favorite name? Or maybe you know a character whose name is so strange you wondered why the author chose it. Let us know.


Peggy Frezon said...

Selecting character names is so important and I like the thought process you're going through on yours. I don't like names that are too odd or impossible to pronounce. I love symbolic names.

N. R. Williams said...

Good comment Peggy. I'd love it if you gave us an example.

Anonymous said...

I did put a little more effort int the name of my protagonist Chase Manhattan. Originally, I had him living in Manhattan, NY. This was when I first began developing the draft for Breakthrough and before I had given him a name.

After only a few weeks, I decided to have him live in Beach, CA. It was then I decided to give the protagonist the last name of Manhattan. Partly because he originally lived in Manhattan, and because I like the name. Manhattan has the word man in it. It also has the word hat. John Wayne wore a hat. Indiana Jones wore a hat. So I thought Manhattan was kind of an adventurous, tough guy name.

Stephen Tremp

N. R. Williams said...

I like it Stephen.

Marian Allen said...

I spend a lot of time on names, too. I have a couple of baby name books and a dictionary of 26 (or is it 36? not at home, so can't check) languages. I use those extensively in fantasies. I'll decide on the general sort of culture I want to indicate, then choose names from that sort of culture, maybe tweak the spelling a bit to indicate pronunciation.

For current or fairly recent historical fiction, news stories and obituaries are useful for finding names. Someone died at age 97. What was the name given a child born when that person was born? The local DAR has put out a series of reprints of newspaper obits and "juicy" stories from the 1800's, also good for finding names.

Great post--very inspirational! Love the look of the blog, too. :)

Marian Allen

N. R. Williams said...

Thanks Marian, this is good information to have.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I was careful when selecting names for my science fiction book. I wanted them to be simple so readers didn't get hung up on pronunciation.

N. R. Williams said...

Always wise.