Monday, March 20, 2017

Dos and Don’ts of Naming Characters

If I only had a name


Writing has been coming along well.  The only impediment: mandatory research.  Most research, for me, starts with the big G.  I research names, images of places that I have in my head, and, this time, history.

Without giving too much away, Dreamweaver (The World In-between 6) is about Berty being stuck in a dream world.  Once he escapes his own dream, he goes from dream to dream, rescuing dreamers.  Dreamers mean new characters.  New characters mean names, which, in turn, means research.

I love learning about name meanings, history, famous namesakes, and name origins.  Yes, sometimes, I take all this into account when naming characters.  Other times, I just like the name.  Or this character feels like a so-and-so.

Soon, I’m coming up to naming a new Dragon character.  Most of my Dragon names in The World In-between series mean some form of fire something-or-other or ancient or serpent/dragon/etc.  Because many cultures around the world believed in dragons or dragon-like creatures, I have many choices in many languages.

However, I also need to take other aspects beyond etymology into consideration when naming characters.  I look at how many characters have names that start with the same letter.  How many of the characters will be in scenes together.  Also, how similar the names in the story and potential names are to each other, so that the reader doesn’t get confused and lose track of who is who.

In real life, you can know five Mikes, three Jens, and a handful of Jasons or Stephen and Stephanie might get married.  Fiction shouldn’t be like that, unless your character has two brothers named Darryl.  When I choose names, I look at a character’s background.  What type of name should this character have that will make it seem realistic in the reader’s eyes?

One of the Dragons is named Paul.  Does it match with the others?  No.  But, it matches him.  And I do explain in the books that he changed his name from something more Dragon-y to Paul.

In the series, different groups have names that originate from different places.  Pixies tend to have Finnish names, while Fairies, at least the Royal Family, have Welsh name origins.  The Elves have mainly Norse/Germanic names and the Dwarves, given their history, can be from anywhere, but the Prince and his family have Eastern European names.

Ideally, names need to reflect the tone of the story.  And the reader should be able to remember the names of the main characters, especially the character for whom the reader roots.  There is nothing worse than reading a story and asking yourself, “Now, who is that?  Who are they talking about?  Is that the main character or someone else?”

What about the ability to pronounce a name?  Somewhat important.  In my notes, I write out the name phonetically so that I can pronounce it properly.  When I read, words come alive in my head.  If I can’t pronounce a name or place, I just take a wild guess.  I’m sure I’ve butchered plenty of names whilst reading.  I’m also sure people butcher names in my books, heck, even my own surname.  Perfectly acceptable, because we all make up pronunciations when we read.  The problem lies in a name that the eye stumbles over.  Like names with too many apostrophes or odd characters.  (I’m so guilty of the latter when making up words for things, but I don’t put them in names.)

No, I haven’t named the Dragon yet, but I know what she looks like.  Her character will develop in my head and perhaps on the page.  The name will come.