Tuesday, June 6, 2017

What's in a Character's Name?

Yesterday I posted on my writing blog about the importance of names in writing.

Naming characters is one of the most important parts of setting up the plot to write your story.  Certainly it can be one of the toughest.  It can also be one of the most rewarding, not only because of the amount of symbolism and plot that can be wrapped up in it but because names have associations and if you do your job right, people will remember your characters.  If I were to say 'Aragorn' you'd immediately think 'Lord of the Rings'.  If I say 'Severus' you immediately think 'Harry Potter'.

So how do I apply the guidelines I talked about yesterday to my own stories?  I'm going to use my last four projects as examples:
Wings of the Tiger (my current WIP)
Queen Beauty and the Beasts (NaNo 2016)
A Certain Darkness (NaNo, 2015, JuNo 2016, on-hiatus WIP)
Ebony and Aubergine (on-hiatus WIP)

A Certain Darkness
Psychological political thriller set in a future in which humans have spread out across the galaxy and what were countries on earth are now planets or star systems. 

The story takes place on the Korean planet in an elite college for orphans.  Most of the students are Korean and their names reflect that, but the MCs are an Irish guy and an Italian girl.   Their names reflect this: Liare Patrick Delaney and Verena Silvesti.

Wait a minute, you say.  Patrick and Delaney are Irish in origin but Liare?

That's where it being a futuristic novel worked in my favor.  I'd made up the name 'Liare' and loved it.  I knew it had to be this guy's first name.  By keeping his middle and last names Irish, I could convey the feeling of his heritage (which is significant to the story) while using a name which I loved, which needed to be his, and which sounded futuristic-y (thus adding to the atmosphere of the novel) without being too hard to pronounce.  [It's pronounced Lee-AIR if you're wondering and the meaning has something to do with 'light'.]

Queen Beauty and the Beasts
Urban fantasy retelling of Beauty and the Beast + Phantom of the Opera set in contemporary South Korea.

This was one of the easiest books to character-name.  Since almost everyone is Korean, including the male MCs, I chose their names after poring over several lists of Korean names and using my favorites or ones whose sounds matched the personality of each character.  The FMC is Argentinian, and her name– Belleza– means beauty, allowing me to reference both the Disney form (Belle) and her name in the original fairy tale (Beauty).

Ebony and Aubergine
Historical fantasy Scarlet Pimpernel retelling, set in the 1800s on a fictional continent in the Pacific.

I knew I wanted the names to be primarily Arabic and Persian with the culture being a blend of Arabian, Persian, and East Asian cultures.  Which on first impression just sounds insanely impossible.  How do you even DO that?

Like this: the land was settled by Arab pirates, but due to the influx of refugees and other diaspora reasons, it's now a mix of East Asian and Arab culture, with the current inhabitants mostly of East Asian blood but with Arab names.

The meanings of said names play into pretty much every thread and sub-thread of this book.  The FMC's name– Zahira– is the feminine form of Zahir, which means 'helper, supporter' (not saying anything other than that because SPOILERS SWEETIE).  The Sir Andrew character is named Mustafa (if you read Mufasa, I don't blame you) which means 'the chosen one' - significant given his place at his leader's right hand.  Lord Tony's name means 'knight'. 

Wings of the Tiger
East Asian historical fantasy set on a fictional continent which is an Asian pseudo-Atlantis.  (Yeah, I kind of have a thing for fictional continents inspired by legends.)  [I might have a thing for East Asia, too, not that anyone would notice.]

The two MCs are from Korea, then known as Goryeo.  Their names are native Korean words, but at the time (and to a great extent now) Korea didn't use native descriptive words as names.  So I've just broken a major rule in writing HiFy, and one I cautioned people just yesterday not to break.

Or did I?

I needed their names to be Bora and Nari because of several reasons (in-joke relating to the inspiration of the book, the meanings of the names, easy to say and remember), but I needed a way to 'break the rule' without breaking the rule.  So I established (er, am establishing, I'm only in the 3rd chapter of the book) that the names 'Bora' and 'Nari' were the girls' nicknames, which they adopted as their names while on the run, to disguise their real names.  Then they just kept them when in the new land.

'Plot darning' Mirriam Neal has called it, and even those of us who are obsessive plotters have to do it sometimes, though certainly not to the extent that pansters do. 

Almost everyone else in the story is from the fictional continent on which the story is set, and their names are my inventions or alterations to fit in with the semi-Mongolian culture I've put together.

{NOTE: Wings of the Tiger is now open for beta/alpha reading, so if you're not on FB and didn't see the announcement there but do want to read this story, leave me a comment.  Please, only readers willing to give feedback.  I'm not asking for intensive critique feedback, just the usual beta stuff.}

So, that's how I personally get away with doing both what I want in regards to names but also following guidelines of good, believable naming in stories.  Because who doesn't want to break rules without breaking rules?

How did you come up with the names for the characters in your WIP?  What is the explanation for them within your story universe?


  1. You're mildly obsessed with East Asia? I never would have noticed.

    I think I shall go write up a post on this subject on my own blog. This shall be fun.

  2. "Mildly obsessed" with East Asia.

    My problem is that I have so many cool names floating about in my head, but not enough stories to put them in, LOL (or time/energy to actually write their stories. Eesh). :-P

    QUOTE: "How did you come up with the names for the characters in your WIP? What is the explanation for them within your story universe?"

    Most of the time, I pick names for characters because I like the sound; character development depends on what image the name conjures up, and the meaning of the name.

    In my current WIP, Prince Nácil, the MC's name is a mix of "Tolkien-Elvish" (ssh!), ancient Germanic, and ancient Irish, slightly altered. I wanted an "Elvish" translation of the name he gives himself among Humans...without actually using Tolkien's [COPYRIGHTED!!!] language extensively. (In face, Nácil is--I believe--the only one of my Elves left with a "Tolkien-Elvish" name...and only because he'd been "Nácil" to me so long than nothing else looked right. Hopefully it's obscure enough that it won't be a problem if/when I publish the book, LOL.)

    Also, a lot of my other Elves' names (Jael, Othniel, Gaméliel) ended up being Hebrew, oddly enough. Mainly because 1.) They're obscure and unusual, and therefore more unique and "exotic," and 2.) They end in "el," which is very Elvish-sounding.
    I've also mixed in names from other cultures (such as Spanish and...Sanskrit, I think...?), altered a bit.

    And several family names (from my own heritage) have made it into the Dramatus Personæ. :-D


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