Sunday, August 29, 2010

N is for Names

What's in a name? Would a rose by any other name smell so sweet? Would Harry Potter be nearly as successful had he been named Floyd Napers? Or Frodo Baggins if he were named Gus Hill?

Though you might not be able to tell a lot about a person on the street by their name, you can often tell a lot about a character. The difference? Well, most people on the street go by names given to them at birth, before their skills, interests, and personalities have been formed. Characters, on the other hand, are named by an author who has that character fully mapped out.

Names can tell you a lot about a person even before you start reading about them. A name like Sarah or James might indicate the character comes from a Christian background and are most likely in an English-speaking country. A name like Katsa or Briar might suggest they are of a fantasy world and have a bit of a fiery personality. Names like Aragorn or Cimorene have a bit of nobility about them, whereas names like Harry or Beckie have a bit of natural grit in them.

Of course, you can work with stereotypes or against them. Having a commoner named Eragon, something which sounds a bit noble, automatically clues the reader in that there might be more to this kid than others think. Same way that naming a prince Humperdinck lets the reader know that this guy isn't to be taken too seriously. Or, you might be meaning to take us on the utterly unsuspected journey of a simpleton (Arthur Dent, Harry Potter) through worlds of greatness.

In choosing names, I get inspiration from different sources. Stormy was the name of my cat (which I picked for her as well). I reused the name for one of my characters over 5 years, and am pondering using it again in my upcoming book. In glancing at my CDs one day, I saw the name of a production company and thought, that'd be a pretty cool name! Thus Narada Moon was born.

I tend to cling to names I like. Jasper was the name of the street I grew up on, as well as one of the villains in 101 Dalmatians (one of my favorite movies). However, that name has become rather popular in other novels...so I'm debating the logic of using it as well. J's in general seem to be kinda my thing, and if I could get away with it, I'd have every guy named a Joel, Jeff, Jason, Jon, Jake, Jimmy, etc.

I've also found that my names tend to have a similarity of syllable count and even letter count:
Stormy Kael - 10 letters, 4 syllables
Raven Azure - 10 letters, 4 syllables
Narada Moon - 10 letters, 4 syllables
Jasper Tyree - 11 letters, 4 syllables
Shauna Thercer - 13 letters, 4 syllables
Amy Gordon - 9 letters, 4 syllables
I actually came upon this discovery completely by accident after creating my third character. I honestly had no idea I was gravitating toward that formula until I'd typed them all out in succession. Perhaps it follows from my real name having 4 syllables and having (annoyingly at times [because it gets cut off]) more than 10 letters.

Unfortunately, variety is very important. It's best not to have everyone's name sound the same. Rachel Green shouldn't appear in the same book with Randy Grant, otherwise it's much too easy for the common (speed)reader to mix them up.

Ease of reading a name is extremely important, especially for the main characters. Mamvish fsh Wimsih fsh Mentaff might be alright for a supporting character, but the main character might be better off being named Nita Callahan. Personally, I've never had much luck with making up names, which is one of the reasons why I think I'm most comfortable in the urban-fantasy genre.

Of course, none of these rules (if I can even call them that) are written in stone. What works for one book may have no hold in another.

So, do you have a favorite name? Or a trick to coming up with names? What works best for you while reading, or writing?

Some N Books I've Read:

A Nice N Group:

The N Font: