Operation Concrete

What’s in a name? Well, a lot I’d like to argue, actually a considerable amount when it comes to both the naming of the novel and the naming of the characters contained within. But as the title of this post suggests, I’m just going to stick with character names.

I feel there are really three key points in naming a character, I’ll break these down now, and ask at the end if you agree.

  • Character back story / history
  • Etymology and connotations of ‘regular’ names
  • Meaning and connotations of ‘regular’ words and using them to 'create' names

Firstly, you need to know your characters back story, thoroughly. You need to know everything about them, from what they eat to pitch of their sigh when they’re being fucked over. A truly great example of this is how Alan Moore did this with Watchmen.

He brings everything out of the character and places it right in front of you. Not only through the narrative and story boards, but the detailed background that is drawn upon in the biographical portraits of each of the characters throughout the graphic novel. I’d like to know Alan’s process, whether he named the characters first, or after he had written such detailed background to them, then found their names.

I’d say go with the second option. With all but one example in the course of my novel I’ve figured out exactly what sort of character they are, what they live and breath, and given their name based on these findings. The other example? Well, I had the name in my head for such a long time that the eventual recipient was already pretty much flesh and bone before I even put finger to keyboard. We’ll get onto him another time.

The second point I believe is to really know a little etymology of names. Their backgrounds and meanings, the thought processes that have taken place and the conventions that have been laid over the duration of time. All of these added up will help contribute to the name that will hopefully add volume to the character.
arnold schwarzenegger
The connotations that some names have also have to be given some thought. For instance, the majority of the western world will associate the name ‘Arnold’ with themes such as power and strength, due largely to big, bad Arnold Schwarzenegger. He has built up his name, his life brand, over the years to symbolise that of a hero, there’s no doubt. If you have a weak, subdued character called Arnold, it’s unlikely to work for the reader.

I’d say thirdly, and lastly, are the possibilities of using any word, what these words make people thing of, and even making up words. Obviously this is what a lot of authors do, pull letters out of the air, arrange them in a way that sounds like what the character should be. Whether this is through some sort of onomatopoeia, or putting together words and letters that look different from, but when pronounced give a word that will emote some sort of reaction.

My favourite example of this is a name I’ve used in my own book. That of ‘Mars Trednme’. I won’t go into too much depth, but here you have an example of a man, volatile and angry but short in stature and vulnerable at the same time. He needed a name that encompassed his violent, rage fuelled nature but also the potential for his downfall at the same time.

God of WarMars – the God of War was an obvious choice, the second name was slightly harder. I decided to take a sentence and use ‘Trednme’ out of the words ‘tread on me’. Together, I like to think they create a name that encompasses the character, and like I said, brings volume and presence to him.

So there’s my naming process. The lead protagonist’s name, I believe, is key to his character, but I’m not giving it away just yet. I will come to talk about this gigantic beast soon enough. I’m actually really interested in how other authors have gone about naming their characters. I wouldn’t feel my personal experience is one that would be considered normal. Perhaps it does ahead to general logic and convention that other authors use, however, I’ve not used any book or source material to put my process together, it’s just what works for me.

This post’s Aspirers Mark is Steffi aka Nym, from Nymeria87. A 21 year old currently one novel into her very own fantasy trilogy, she’s got big ambitions, and why not? Full life ahead of her I can only wish her luck with the trilogy. Also, the blog is great, a really cool resource for everything from book reviews to insights on publishing, with the occasional inspired rant. Read and enjoy.