Power in a Name

Reading and writing are two completely different beasts. When writing a novel, every element feels like it needs to fall into place accordingly. Everything from the big stuff, like plot points, to the smaller things, like a character’s name. However, the things we focus on as writers tend not to be the things people focus on as readers.

Names are something I have struggled with as a novel writer. Fiction, especially fantasy, tries to convince us that names have power. Celtic fair folk are said to gain a certain amount of control over a person if the fair folk learns that person’s full name. In The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini, a favorite series of mine as a kid, people had true names said in the Ancient Language that, if someone knew, could give that person full control. Even in real life, we feel pressured to name children something that we hope they’ll grow into, like naming a girl Margaret in the hopes that she will become a beautiful, perhaps traditionally-thinking, woman someday.

Yet there are no distinctively good names, nor distinctively bad. “Voldemort” sounds evil, but even if it is more than just having seven Harry Potter books to convince us that the person, and therefore the name, feels villainous, it is worth pointing out that Voldemort was born as Tom Riddle. Such a name is, at least, easier to strip away the villainous connotations it earned from the Harry Potter books.

My point is that names do not have inherent power in them. Even a surname like “Riddle” could be given to a protagonist of a story without making the readers instantly mistrust them. Names must earn the power. The characters of a story must grow into them like they’d grow into clothes. It does not happen all at once.

I will admit that a certain level of care should be taken in choosing a name for your characters. If you’re naming several characters all born in the same area, they would generally have very similar-sounding names, especially if this area is remote. The more central such a location is, the more selection you have for character names (and character descriptions). However, even in remote areas, you’re going to have a handful of people being named something new and not quite in line with those based off of a geographical area.

Either way, you obviously still have to name your characters something or another. Here’s a few quick suggestions I’ve seen across the internet and have used sporadically:

  1. Mix several different sounds together until one feels right. I don’t use this one very often just because you tend to need to cycle through a few different combinations before settling on a good one.
  2. Use the character’s or place’s use within the story to determine a name, through an acronym. For example, “Jane’s sister” could be JeSsie. The only problem with this one is that some names may end up sounding similar, if, for example, Jane has many sisters, or whatnot. Still, it can be similar to #1, but with the added guidance of sounds within the name.
  3. Use some name generators. There’s a lot of them out there for you. My go-to is www.fantasynamegenerators.com/, just because it’s easy to use, and has a lot of different ways to categorize your characters so you have a better chance of finding the type of name you want. This is one of my go-to’s, personally.
  4. Choose a nationality for the region your character is from and pick any relevant names for the characters from that region based on that nationality. Especially when talking about those isolated regions, this can be a good place to go, so all of your names sound genuine and uniform. My own work in progress has some Greek influences, so I focus on more Greek names for my characters. The only problem with this route is that it can be difficult to find more obscure names, and I don’t want to name any characters after obviously famous figures of the mythology.

There may be others, but these are the ones I’ve used the most, and they make the naming marginally easier, even if it does still feel like a pain to name characters.

As always, if it helps with the flow of writing, don’t be afraid to use placeholder names that are easy to search up, and use that placeholder name until you have time to go on a name shopping spree.

Leave a Comment!

I try not to write a post that goes against the grain simply for the novelty of it. I truly believe that, while character names do give a first impression, that impression is easily changed by the actions of the character. Tell me, do you agree? Or do you think names are incredibly important for your characters?


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