Thursday, October 4, 2012

Call me Ishmael, or Ishy for short. Whatever.

The fabulous BLOG CHAIN is starting up again and I'm blessed to be a part of it along with a gaggle of writers I both adore and admire. Good people. Find them in my sidebar.

The format is a little more predictable this time, so I can tell you I'll be posting Blog Chain topics every 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month. Yay for schedules and predictability!

Read it backwards. The Mirror of Erised has a special name.

Kate Karyus Quinn has picked our first intriguing topic:

What's in a name? What if Harry Potter had been Larry Snotter? What if Edward was Jacob and Jacob was Edward? What favorite books had character names that you loved or hated? And how do you come up with your own character names?
 This topic makes me smile because of the memories it revives. My junior high school English teacher taught me about literary names, using the old classic Oliver Twist. The teacher pointed out that Mr. Bumble was an appropriate name for a bumbling fool, and Bill Sikes had kind of a menacing note to it, while Oliver TWIST made you think of something crooked or perhaps ill-fated. Then there was the atrocious Fagin, the self-sacrificing Nancy, and the most literal: The Artful Dodger.

It tickled my literary-loving brain to explore the implications and emotions each name conjured.

Years passed and I didn't worry about that element of literature too much again... not until my baby sister, then about 13, told me there were these awesome books about magic that I really should read. Can you guess?

Harry Potter!

I relished anew the fun of deciphering a character by his or her name. Some were just weird: Hermione? Really? How do you even say that? Pshaw.

Then there was the harry Hagrid, the awkward Neville, and the fancy Draco with all his perplexing opinions about Hogwarts houses. Those names, too, were packed with meaning. In fact, there's not a single name in Harry Potter that isn't. It's incredible. JK Rowling must be absolutely exhausted. My favorite is Sirius, the dog star. So many layers can be hidden in a name.

When I name my characters, I usually look for one that matches a type: 

For instance, I created a science fiction writer who wrote his first book as a teenager and still collects comic books. His name was Eric.

I have a neuro-scientist with a tragic past who spends all his time imagining this other, better world created in our minds. His name is Professor William Astor.

I created a pair of twins, one good and one evil, named Rob and Rupert. If I'm honest, Rob was initially kind of a Harry wannabe. Rupert was the interesting one. (Those characters are still evolving, and their names might, too.)

I had fun naming a miracle child Mirielle, and an ex-spy Angus Chase.

A beautiful blonde alien named Azalea beams all over the pages of my one and only alien book.

And when I want to write a story set in a high school, there is invariably a side character named Jessica. Not sure why...

Naming characters is fun. Almost as much fun as naming my own kids, but without the guilt of possibly giving them one that doesn't work well atop a resume.

For me, the meaning is important. But even more relevant than the official meaning is the feeling it evokes, or the word associations (things it sounds like or ideas it inspires).

I like to give characters a stereotypical name so readers think right off they've got them figured out. People like to have easy first impressions, like Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice. And it makes it all the more fun to stand those stereotypes on their heads, to show the audience that you can't judge a book by its cover... or its title.

After all, a name is just a name.

Don't miss yesterday's blog chain post by the lovely and talented Christine Fonseca, and tomorrow head over to Lisa Amowitz's blog. These two lady authors have a lot going on right now, so be sure to check them out on goodreads, too.


  1. They're starting the chain back up? Awesome.

    1. Yes, Michelle is my contact person and she put the schedules together this time. It's a big relief to know every day I'm supposed to post for the next whole year. :) Ready anything afterglowy lately, Matthew?

  2. Dickens is a great example of an author who comes up with good names for his characters!

  3. Oooh, Dickens is a great example! And I LOVE the character name Mirielle. So pretty.

  4. agreed, I love naming my characters :) I try to go for something that evokes the right sound and feel, and like you, I really like the name to mean something. If I have a dark character, I'll start my search by googling names that mean something dark, etc. Tons of fun :D


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