What’s In a Name (part 2)

Posted: May 7, 2014 in Writing
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Name wordcloud

Last week I talked about the twists and turns of finding alternate names for mundane things in our urban fantasy novel, The Last Princess.  Sometimes, it seems to me, you have to rename things even if everybody knows what they are, because you might need to make them different to fit your story.

This week I’m going to talk about naming people.

The thing about any fantasy fiction – urban or otherwise – is you are presumably featuring people a little different from your average garden-variety human being.  Whether they are from another realm or another species, or have special powers, it is often desirable to give your characters interesting names.  In other words, you don’t find a lot of demon lords named Fred.

In The Last Princess there are people who are descended from the fae (traditional fairy tale creatures), but are themselves mostly human.  Some of these people – be they troll-born or dryad-born or jinni-born – might be called Fred.  But the fae-born that have speaking parts in our book have more interesting names, and we’ve tried very hard to find names that were fun, meaningful, and appropriate for the character’s racial qualities and nation of origin.

One of the first people Cat meets on her quest is an ogre-born man.  In my research I discovered that the concept of the ogre was first introduced by French Author Charles Perrault.  So I named this character Mr. Perrault.  The dwarf-born man Cat meets is German (as is the original dwarf legend), so in this case I chose a German name that also invoked the traditional qualities of a dwarf.  His name is Mr. Goldschmidt.

Cat’s best friend has a nanny who happens to be a brownie-born.  I found out that brownies and elves often get mixed up in literature.  The shy creatures who come out at night to clean your house and who mend shoes and make toys and cookies are actually brownies.  There really aren’t any “shoemaker elves” or “toymaker elves,” and the Keebler Elves are about the most un-elflike creatures I have ever seen.  Elves are wise hunters who are circumspect and often mischievous.  Elves are tall and beautiful and live in large groups, while brownies are small and ugly and reclusive.  Elves are Norse in origin, while brownies are English.

So the brownie-born woman became Nanny Schumacher, while the elf-born became Gunter “Hunter” Alfson.  These slightly otherworldly characters speak with dialects from their country of origins, too (more about that here).

Goblins are a little different than other fae-born.  Goblins choose their own names or are assigned them based on their prowess or reputation, such as the ancient King, Gutrot-Breath.  In our story, the villain is a young goblin, who also happens to be a changeling, so he was named and raised by well-meaning humans who didn’t know what they had.  Ultimately the goblin prince chose his own name, Bone-Breaker, because he refused to go down in history with his given name, Melvin Francis Gaylord (thanks to my daughter for coming up with these delicious names).

Cat encounters an imp-born limo driver; he’s a chain-smoking little bald man who likes to wear red.  His name is Pierce.  For a group of rich girls Cat meets at an upscale country-club (nymph-, sprite-, piskie- and dryad-born), I went back 13 years to 2001 and chose from among the most popular girl’s names.  I ended up with Lauren, Madison, Alexis, Taylor, Megan, Brianna, and Kayla.

I’m of the opinion that the names of the characters you meet in books stick with you, particularly if they are interesting.  And for this middle grade book, we definitely want these characters to stick with you.

What about you?  Do the characters in your own fiction have interesting and memorable names?


NEWSFLASH: We’re getting close to finishing the first draft of The Last Princess.  If you would like to sign up to be a beta reader, please use the “Beta Reader Sign-Ups” tab at the top of this page.

  1. Hehe…you know all about my peculiar issue with names, right, John?
    For some of my characters, I just pick a name out of a mental hat. It’s very zen. It just feels right. Thus were born Kevin Drake and Scott Cohen, intrepid reporters, Mina, hard-as-nails cultist, Pris, well-adjusted-and-likable-cultist (long story), as well as Lucas, Kay, Markus, and all the rest of my supernatural characters. Torch and Artemis were known only by their callsigns until recently, when I decided to give Artemis a real first name (Naomi–also from the department of it-just-feels-right).

    And, of course, therein lies my issue. Especially with my MCs, names and nicknames somehow become manifestations of personality. So as my MCs evolve over time, they tend to pick up more names. Way too many more. Take Rien. Her given name is Luana Rolinde. That’s meaningful, because it’s what her father calls her, in memory of her late mother. So it’s intimate. She grows up in the Guild where folks refer to each other almost exclusively by call signs, so her given name becomes even more intimate and private. Her callsign is “Ghost,”–again, a reference to her late mother, to whom she bears an uncanny resemblance. Her best friend, Naomi, calls her Boo–an affectionate nickname that just so happens to relate adorably to her callsign. So, you know, fun. When she leaves the Guild, she isn’t comfortable using her given name with people she doesn’t trust, but she also wants to redefine herself, so she chooses a new callsign (Rien–because she sees herself as being undefined). And thanks to her addiction to legal stimulants, she’s also known as “Renee” in the local coffee shop, because baristas can never figure out how to spell (or pronounce) “Rien” on her coffee cup.

    So that’s….five. Five names. One character.

    And this happens to me a lot.

    Yay, names!


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