Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Naming

*will not make a cheesy reference to Children of Eden*

Okay. So, I believe I mentioned before how important naming characters is to me. Naming them is practically an act of creation - before they have a name, they're just a vague presence in my mind, an idea floating around up there but not being utilized. Once I give them a name, however, my characters solidify into something real (which my roommate might tell you marks me as a crazy person, but don't listen to her ;P). For my minor characters especially, their personalities are shaped around their names. One of these days I might have to take the idea of someone not looking like or acting like the way their name sounds and run with it, but that would be about seventeen potential projects down the road, so never mind. (And also, Amna the Amazing is doing that at the moment, so no stealing of ideas, of course.)

Names are important, both in real life and for characters. Often people ask each other "if you could change your name, what would you change it to?" and invariably people seem to come up with wild answers like Eowyn or Jewel or Tobias. I never know what to say. I mean, I have tons of favorite names (ranging from the simple like Anna and Emma and Julie to the complex, like Tristan and Mairead and Eoin) but I wouldn't ever want one of those to be MY name. I am not a Mairead. I am a Caitlin - still very Irish, of course, but Caitlin is who I am and I wouldn't ever want to change that. A name is (uh-oh, here comes the English geek) a symbol of a character - or a person - and in literature, it *is* that character.

Think about it - you're reading a story about a person named Bob. Obviously Bob has character traits as shown in the story, but unless there are really good descriptors (or if this thing I'm going to talk about is exactly what the author intended), Bob can be anyone. The name doesn't specifically connote a type of personality or a career or an appearance. Bob could be tall, short, thin, fat, balding, dark haired, blond, angry, caring, callous, funny, and/or nervous. Anything, really.

Whereas if you pick a name like... er... Vartan, say. What does that sound like to you? It's unusual, to be sure. And the hard sounds of the v and the r and the t make it sound sort of harsh to me. Maybe you might not picture him right off the bat as I have described him in A Bridge to War and A Tangled Web (which is as Avar's blind, powerfully magical, self-righteous and slightly psychotic elder brother) but I'm guessing you can at least get a bad-guy vibe off of it.

Names can also be used for characterization purposes. For example, my main character's name is Roslyn Elberrele, but she can probably count on one finger the number of people who actually *call* her Roslyn. Her family calls her Rosie - one of those childhood nicknames that just stuck, you know? - and once Avar gets over his irritation with and anger at her, he nicknames her Rose, because he thinks Rosie is silly and Roslyn is too formal. By book two, Rose is the name she goes by. And I will not ramble on about the symbolism behind that one.

Names are terribly important to me. I'm not sure if I'm jealous or horrified when I hear about people just giving their characters stand-in names and they'll change them later when they get around to thinking up a good one. I could never do that. I hate changing names even if it's for the best reason imaginable. Because to me, that signifies changing the character in some way.

In any case, the names database I use most frequently is the baby names section of That site will bombard you with popups, and it's crashed my Firefox several times so I have to use Internet Explorer, which I hate. But that database has EVERYTHING, so it's worth it.

Also, on a random site note, don't forget to enter the GLA's Dear Lucky Agent contest!

Happy weekend, everyone! And don't be like me and spend Valentine's Day studying for an Italian test, all right?


  1. Names are haaard. I mean there an a gazillion trillion names out there and you have to find the ONE that belongs to your character.

    Happy Valentine's Day!

  2. Haha, YAAAY, somebody commented on my uberlong post! Thanks, BC. :)

    Happy Valentine's Day.

  3. I agree! So many to choose from and yet so few (maybe only one) that fit just right. And I'm having a minor crisis right now, just considering the idea of changing one character's last name, because people keep telling me it sounds a bit funny. No guarantees I'll be able to do it. XD

    Also, down with tests that must be studied for over the weekend! *is studying for physics final*

  4. Agreed on both the name changing and studying-over-weekends front.

    Good luck changing that last name! What's the original one, if I might inquire?