This Top 5 Wednesday is all about the names! As you guys may remember from the Nameberry Challenge I mentioned awhile back, names are my jam. And because it would be way to hard for me to actually follow the topic and pick just five names I love, I shook things up and wrote about the five naming techniques I love when authors use for their characters. Shockingly I had A LOT to say about these matters, of which I wrote about extensively. So let’s just get on with it!
Perhaps no one understands the power of good alliteration better than the lovely J.K. Rowling. Harry Potter is chalk full of names utilizing the melodious sounds, from Luna Lovegood to Sirius Snape. Could that be why her books are so beloved? Highly unlikely, but it does serve well in creating iconic monikers for iconic characters. And she’s not the only one- writer or otherwise- who understand the power of a well plotted consonant warp. I went to a school where more than a few cubby holes were graced with alliteration, along with having spent most of my life reading books that featured textbook examples. It just rolls off the tongue so naturally, automatically holding a place in your brain not soon to be forgotten. Alliteration also serves to bring a special touch to an otherwise ordinary name. No one would think anything of the first name Brandon and last name Brainerd, but together they make a symphonic orchestra of similar and clashing sounds that produces Brandon Brainerd. Moral of the story: if you’re in the business of baby naming or (even more importantly) character naming, think alliteration.
- History Rewritten
In the 1880’s Social Security tracked the top titles bestowed to infants in the decade as Mary and John. Original? Not so much. No author wants to give their characters a name so wallflower-y, so blended in the background. A name that is likely shared by the readers grandparents. No, they want it to stand out. This is so the second you hear the moniker in passing you instantly think of their book. That’s a tricky game to play with contemporaries, as with so many hipsters out there the reader is likely to assume that’s your MO and subconsciously loathe you. I recommend sticking to one of the other tricks I mention. However this will work like a charm in historical or alternate fiction. One very well utilized example I’ve seen recently is the protagonist of Walk on Earth a Stranger. Her name, Lee, is traditionally given to males. And yes, in the Gold Rush age (an era before girls named Max) no one would have been brazen enough to blur the gender line. Nevertheless Lee feels perfectly at home for a 2016 reader, while also being applicable to the time period at hand. It’s unique, it’s memorable, and it’s perfect for the character. Which leads me to my next point…
- Character Fitting
In real life you don’t get a crystal ball into the future. There’s no way of knowing if your daughter Ophelia will be a born thespian or a basketball jock. You pick a name you like and move on. As an author though all the pieces are for you to maneuver. Odds are you already know the backstory of your character, from their personality, to hobby, to likes and dislikes. Utilize it. With all the information already in your back pocket, there’s two directions you can go. Direction one: the name is EXACTLY (as in down to the T) like the character at hand. This would include Jane Eyre, whose first name is tragically plain but is followed up by a surname equal parts simple and romantic. Direction two: choose a name totally opposite of the character. I can’t think of any good examples of this, but basically the idea follows the hope in that by defying traditional expectations the character has gotten you to pay attention. As a rule of thumb, as long as you go big in either direction there will be pay off.
Meaning is probably THE most classic and commonly utilized of all the naming tactics on this list. Seriously, it goes way back. One of my favorite examples of it is to hear Suzanne Collins explain her choice of Katniss Everdeen’s memorable moniker. First name Katniss is actually a plant, dually known as “arrowhead”. Said plant belongs to the Sagittarius family, a.k.a. the constellation of archers. An impressive shoutout to the archery skills that eventually save Katniss’ life. Irregardless of what the meaning of your character’s name is, it’s a neat Easter egg for fans to find, and can give an extra layer of insight to your writing process. It also doesn’t belong just to those in the science fiction and fantasy camps. Tina Fey selected the name of head mean girl in her blockbuster, based on the meaning of Regina- “Queen”.
This is definitely a bit of an umbrella category for everything I’ve discussed thus far. Whether you take into consideration everything I mentioned, bit and pieces, or none of it, know that above all your character’s name should be unique. Whether that means you pull a name out of thin air, look deep into literal meanings, or pay ode to a special person- it should definitely inspire some strong feelings inside you. Think about it this way: Shakespeare is credited with creating numerous names now gone mainstream in the 20th and 21st centuries. Names like Miranda, Vanessa, and Jessica that have seemingly been around forever. Not only have his works left a lasting impression, but his strong appreciation for sounds has been imparted on upward of thousands of little girls. I don’t know about you, but that’s a pretty strong legacy to leave behind. As Dale Carnegie says- “Names are the sweetest and most important sounds in any language”.
What are your favorite bookish names? Do you like it when your favorite authors incorporate the naming techniques I mentioned above? Let me know in the comments!
-Keep Calm and Read On