What’s in a Name?

Some writers find choosing a name for their character an easy task.

Not so for me.

I agonize over it. Over-analyze the options.

Does the name fit the period (always important in Historical Fiction)?

Do I like the sound of the name? Does it fit the traits envisioned for that character? Is the name impossible to pronounce? Is it too generic? Too unique?

What about the meaning of a name? While some writers don’t concern themselves over-much with meanings, that actually does carry some weight with me.

As a Christian, seeking the deeper meaning is kind of second nature.  The Scriptures are immersed with metaphor and symbolism meant to convey deeper spiritual lessons.  From my youth, I was taught to search for these gems. And, if you’re a student of Biblical studies, you already know that the name of a person carried great significance. Any doubt, just consider the story of Abraham. God changed his name from Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of a multitude), after making a covenant with him to multiply his descendants. A profound promise to a man whose wife was barren.

In a sense (however small), you get God’s perspective as Creator, when you take to building your characters. They don’t understand the significance of their name or even their place in the story. I mean, how can they? They’re a figment of your imagination. But you as the writer, know the bigger picture. If you can effectively build the significance of something as simple as a name into the bigger picture of your novel – then the payoff for your reader is huge! Not to mention it makes great Easter Egg fodder.

Come on! Don’t tell me you don’t love discovering Easter Eggs in a novel. It’s like finding Stan Lee in a Marvel movie.

Over at LinkedIn’s Historical Fiction group, we’ve been discussing this very issue.  The topic is: How do you choose a name for your Historical Fiction character?

Following this topic has been immensely interesting. It’s fun to see where other authors/writers find their inspiration. The range of personal investment is as diverse as the many writers out there. Some randomly choose from name books or people they’ve known. Others pour over resources until they find the perfect moniker.

As mentioned before, genre often dictates the method for name choosing. Historical Fiction forces you to pick period appropriate names. Another challenge comes when you create a character – invest yourself in them – then discover some essential historical figure vying for the spotlight who just happens to share your character’s name.

Hate it when that happens!

Yes, I’m still struggling with that dilemma – times two!

Then there’s made-up names. No, this is not something only Sci-fi and Fantasy novelists do. Though, I confess, I carried over a fictionalized name from a character created for a fantasy novel. There’s a price for doing that in HF.

Which reminds me, is there anybody out there who speaks Irish and can tell me if there’s a word in Irish Gaelic that sounds like: “ti-lawn-uh”? If you can answer this question for me, you just might garner a place for yourself in the acknowledgments of my future novel.

Ok, ok, anyway, character names have been on my mind lately, so I thought I’d share with you a little bit about what that process might entail for a writer.

So how about you? Does naming your character come easily for you? Is it a challenge? An obsession? If you’re not a writer, but appreciate good fiction, can a character name make or break the story for you?

Please feel free to express your thoughts.

….and any thoughts about that Irish Gaelic word. Just sayin’ I’d be totally grateful and – oh, ok, I’ll drop it now.



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