Monday, June 23, 2008

What's in a name?

The loads of other writers I've spoken to -- and we're talking at least one or two individuals here, all of them making as much money from this as I do -- have all told me that coming up with names for their characters is one of the hardest things they do. I found this very interesting, because for me it's the complete opposite: naming my characters is one of the easiest things I can to. Hell if I know why.

A fictional character's name doesn't really mean anything, and I think the ones that do tend to sound a little silly more often than not. I'm thinking of the cliched sort of "Storm Ironhew" names you see in poorly planned D&D campaigns, but it applies as well to people like Luke Skywalker. It's a little pretentious, if you think about it, expecting him to live up to his name like that. Why couldn't Lucas just have called him Fred or something?

Stephen Donaldson did kind of the same thing when he named Thomas Covenant and Linden Avery: they're not even real names. They're symbols; metaphors; analogues. It's probably why both of them have such prickly sticks up their asses the whole time. Who could relax and have fun if they were named after a binding promise, or a tree with leaves shaped like hearts? Oh, the pressure!

I don't do that; I can't be that mean to my characters. I don't name them so it will mean something; I give them names that sound nice. Really, that's all there is to it. My characters' names all sound pretty to me. Often there will be several syllables, repeating in a pattern like a music beat. And no, I don't plan it like that; it just ends up that way.

The heroine of the MO is named Amelia Christine Richardson; Amy for short. I don't recall spending a lot of brain power coming up with that one (as if I would remember; she's had that name since I was in high school); it just sort of happened that way. There's no subtext there; her middle name isn't meant to imply anything divine or sacrificial or even good. It just sounded nice when I thought it up.

Other characters in the MO are named: Prith, Serith, Ailith, Esmera, Brianna, Naranda, Selandra, Taraminya, Alyssa -- all women, and it never really occurred to me that the vowell ending most of the names makes them sound a little weird when recited all in a row like that. I'll have to make sure to never write a scene involving a roll call.

The men are named Willem, Jannem, Jehain, Hostin, Galadaine, Lahorrel, Merrick. Clearly my female names all have soft sounds to them, while the men's names are harder and rougher. Also, none of them have surnames, which is a remnant of my Donaldson-worshipping past. None of the characters in his Land have surnames, so neither did mine, dammit.

The protagonist of the WVS is named Amanda Green. It turned out she was Jewish, and originally her surname was Geller, but that didn't work. Geller was the last name of Ross and Monica from Friends, and Sarah Michelle Gellar was in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and just: no. Even by accident, I didn't want to link my story with that one. So Green she became.

The heroine of the NT is Samantha Eileen Foster, though I haven't actually mentioned her middle name yet by the point where I've written to. Her new boyfriend is Alex Bennett, and it was about this time I noticed they were all sounding a little whitebread suburbia. Which: fine, becuase that's what they are and where they live, but I didn't want to do that the whole book. So a new girl she becomes friends with is named Melinda, which I think it just a beautiful name, unusual and maybe a little old fashioned, and which I pinched from one of the best books I've read in the past decade: Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson. Another friend, who was killed in a drunk driving crash before the start of the book, is named Harriet, another unusual name that seemed to work.

Nearly all of my protagonists are women, which will get a post of its own one of these days.

No comments: