“What’s in a Name?”

Names of characters are very important to me.  They have to be just right.  After all, both the character and I are going to be stuck with them for a very long time.  And no, I can’t just change the name if I don’t like it: once the character’s name is set, and it has gone onto a page, it doesn’t get changes (minor exception: I did change the spelling of one character’s name when he went from being casually mentioned in one book, to the main character [MC] in another).

For this reason, it will sometimes take me days, or even longer, of pondering one individual’s name, just to make sure I have it right.  Sometimes, I ask for input.  Sometimes, I do research.  In my previous story, Alyraekas (I will call it a story now because it may be broken up into a couple books), the names of the three MCs were very important.  I had decided to name each of the characters based on the meanings of the names of my two nieces and my nephew (I have since had a second nephew: he had to make it into the next book).  I would look up the meaning of the kid’s first and middle names, then find other names with the same meanings.  Finding names that I liked and that went well together was a challenge, and I tweaked the spelling of one of the names.  Eventually, though, Akeelah Lahael, Kayyat of the Dark Valley and Shanahan from Katja were all named, and I could start the book.

My problem comes in naming secondary characters.  I put so much time and effort into making sure I have the MCs names just right, that when I introduce a secondary character, half the time I just kind of toss out whatever comes into my mind first.  This is fine, most of the time.  After all, I won’t have to write it as much, readers won’t have to read it as much.  The character is not as important, so the name doesn’t have to fit quite as well, be quite as perfect.  Until, of course, that character becomes more important than I expected.  This is what happened with Kayyat’s brother.

In Alyraekas, I introduced a younger brother of my MC, Kayyat.  I knew he would show up a few times in the story, but he wasn’t that critical, so I didn’t give his name much thought.  He became Mallin.  I realized partway in, I really didn’t like the name, but, he was a minor character, so I didn’t fight it.  Then, when I started on the sequel, which focuses on different MCs, I realized that Mallin was moving from his debut position as “little brother, secondary character”, to an MC, himself.  Not only will I have to develop his character more, but now, I am stuck with this name I don’t like.  Fortunately, there are solutions to every problem.  Mallin’s solution was a shortened nickname: he had become, Mal.  And Mal is a name I can definitely live with.

Because I am so concerned with character’s names, I make note of them in others’ books.  I have a list of some favorites: Landon Carter (Nicholas Sparks’s, A Walk to Remember), Romulus Thread (A rather minor character and a bad guy who makes his first appearance in Suzanne Collins’s Catching Fire), and most recently, Magnus Bane (who turns out to be an important figure in just about all of Cassandra Clare’s books, I believe).

How about you?  What are some of your favorite character names?

– S.D. Bullard

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~ by sdbullard on August 9, 2012.

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