On Names

The Twirl and Swirl of Letters

I’m on a bit of a naming kick lately. I’ve been thinking about what makes a good character name. Is it one that conjures up images of grandeur with mythological connotations? Or is it one that is bland, simple, and easy to build a character around?

These days, I favor the latter. My characters have everyday names, ones that won’t garner too much attention. Geoffrey. Julia. Will. David. Linda. When I was younger (i.e., in my early Tolkien obsessed days), my characters had slightly (to very) ridiculous names. Unlike Tolkien’s world, there failed to be any rhyme or reason to the names. My personal favorite? Random Redux. A friend and I came up with Mr. Redux while in high school. He was a space captain, out to save the world, and so on and so forth. The thing was his name didn’t fit into the universe. Not to mention it is rather silly.

Back to naming things.

These days, I name characters before I come up with their personalities. This might be a bit counter productive, but I see it as naming babies. The kid’s born, and you look at him and say, “My! He looks like a Brian!” or a Julian or a Michael. The babies have no  (or minimal) personality. They’re red and sticky and look like lizards. Note that the last time I was in a delivery room was the day I was born.

Sometimes, though, I find I have to wait until I find the perfect name. When I started writing my novel (the first draft is done, but I still think of it as in its infancy), my main character didn’t have a name. He ended up being named William relatively quickly. The name just sort of fit, perfectly. I like to think of it as the characters naming themselves.

My attempts to name my characters often ends up with them throwing off these given names, and ending up with names they’ve “selected.” I tried to saddle Geoffrey with some pretty horrific pseudo-Tolkien monikers (I currently don’t have access to these notebooks), but fortunately he bucked them. It was during my freshman year of high school attempt to read The Canterbury Tales when he said, “Screw it all. My name’s Geoffrey.”

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