What’s in a name? More than you might expect.
How important is it for an author to give the correct name to a character?
More important than a lot of readers realize and character naming is often a source of author angst. Depending on what you are writing you need to be aware of or invent naming conventions within whatever social structure you are writing or have developed. If you’re writing a historical fiction piece, you had better look up what names were most popular the years of your characters’ births and you will need to be aware of the part of the world your story takes place as well. Don’t assume, look it up.
If you are writing fantasy or science fiction you have a bit more leeway. While you are building your worlds you need to also build naming conventions such as do all names have six letters or are they all single syllables – think Star Trek’s Spock where all names began with S. One problem I have as a reader is that many authors seem to think that odd consonant combinations and a minimum of fifteen or more letters makes their character names sound or look exotic, more ‘alien’ or fantasy-like. Do they consider the pronounce-ability of what they’ve written? For some readers this can be a deterrent to the reading flow and often they will actually abandon a book due to frustration with the character names. I know I have done this. Why do some authors do that?
So, with that in mind, how did I choose or come up with the names for my characters? Anyala’s name just appeared on the page when I wrote the original short story when I was fourteen. I have no idea where it came from – it was just her name and she didn’t have a last/surname until much later. When the Stones appeared in the story and I was naming them I decided that one of the clues to The Blood’s identity was that she would be named after the Stone – therefore one of the Stones became Anyala. But then I didn’t want Renloret (we’ll talk about his name later) to recognize it right away so I shortened her name to Ani. The Pericha Stone is named after my sister’s Greek husband whose surname is Pericharos. I can’t remember exactly how I came up with the Kita Stone.
Most of the names come from my playing around with words – usually a misspelled word lights a fire in my imagination. Kela is a derivative of Akela from The Jungle Book. It was the wolf pack leader’s name and I liked how it sounded. In The Blood, Kela is ancient Lrakiran for leader. Now, Renloret comes from adding and subtracting sounds to the juggled around syllables of the word Chevrolet – PS the ‘t’ is not pronounced, think French. One of my favorite character names is Stubin Dalkey. The character’s original name was Cesar (emphasis on the second syllable) – off of Caesar, but every time I tried to use it I would hesitate, especially when I was reading a section aloud. I was working with another writer and discussed the problem with this name. I described him as being stubborn like a donkey which needed a two-by-four between the ears to get him off his stupid single-minded alien track. We played around with the words “stupid donkey” and came up with Stubin Dalkey. Got it?
For some complicated naming conventions you should look at the Doona series by Anne McCaffrey and Linda Nye – I’m not sure that those books can be read aloud, especially Treaty at Doona when the third alien species shows up. It was work to read silently. I understood her reasoning and appreciated the consistency – but it was not necessarily a smooth read.
How do you decide on a character’s name? What methods do you use?
So here’s a little puzzle for you. Can you guess the root words of Doctor Isul Treyder’s name?
The first two with the correct answer will get a rough draft scene from book two, The Balance, featuring the ‘kind’ doctor. Please post your guesses here. Or send them to my e-mail address: Allynn@timberdark.com along with your contact info.