What’s in a name?
Apparently, as I’ve been finding out, a lot.
As authors, we often like to use a pen name. And this requires a lot of thought, since the name is, or will become, part of your identity, part of who other people think you are and can say a lot about not only where you come from, but also the kind of person you are.
Many of our surnames, as this article in the Daily Mail explains, come from medieval times. For example, if your ancestors made candles, your surname may well reflect that – Chandler. Or consider Smith. Wheelwright. Baker.
Or the surname can reflect some characteristic of that long-gone ancestor – Hart, meaning Stag; Belcher (no, not someone who burps a lot), meaning fair, or lovely face; then there’s Dolittle, meaning lazy …
Do you know the meaning of your own name? If so, do you like it, and does it say anything about you as a person?
My name is Louise. In French, this means “Renowned Warrior”. Not just this but also, according to NameBerry, ‘Louise’ has been regarded as having to do with competency, studiousness and efficiency. These two definitions don’t seem to have much to do with each other, but a renowned warrior must be competent, must be efficient. My other name, my real first name, means something almost completely the opposite. Ha. Though I am not efficient, or consider myself a renowned warrior (!), I find aspects of both my names fit me.
I find, when writing historical, I look for names with deeper meanings. The name of my MMC is Egon, which means Blade/Fire, depending if you’re looking at the Germanic meaning or Celtic. He has a fiery temperament and also used a dagger to kill two people. Egon is also a twin, so I wanted the twin to have the same name, or name meaning, with a difference to show how the twins are similar in some ways and very different in others – so I called him Adin, which means born of fire in Celtic, or handsome and pleasure-bringer in Hebrew. Both of these names fit these guys to a T. It took me a long time, but I couldn’t imagine them having any other name now.
When I’m writing contemporary, I look for names I like. I was thinking about this yesterday. If I just pick a name out of a hat, so to speak, does that mean my contemporary characters are not as deep as my historical ones? It’s something to think about for me.
Here are a few things to consider when choosing a name:
Find names that suit the characters. Do you want a male romance lead to be called Bill, or Billy? Hm. Maybe some of you might, but it doesn’t have that ring of ‘tall, dark and handsome’ for me:D
- Maybe make use of alliteration (E.G. Severus Snape, the repetitive ‘s’ and his surname all sound like snakes and hissing).
- Make sure your character names are not all using the same letter of the alphabet. (This might sound obvious but I find, when first writing something new, most of my names begin with A, lol).
- Make sure that a reader can ‘sound’ them properly in their heads, that the name isn’t a tongue twister like Maximillian Fungustosian.
- Make sure your names have a variety of length and syllables.
- When choosing a name, research all the different meanings there are in the different languages. Granted, some names have similar meanings in most languages – Alexander, eg – but others have a plethora of meanings and this can be a treasure trove when characterising your leads, especially if some seem to contradict each other.
So there are a few things to think about. Names might come easy to you, but for many, like me, it’s like removing a feather from thick mud.
Good resources for finding names:
Baby names websites (obvious)
Friends and family
Your school year list
Non-fiction books – open up a book on architecture, or fashion, for example. Have a look at the names and play around with them, mix and match, change first and last letters of first names, etc.
Look at maps. Many place names, street names, names of rivers can be used etc.
Look at parliamentary records, or church records. These are rich resources for names, especially historical.
A name generator can be lots of fun…
Also, if you look at various genealogy websites, they list, in alphabetical order, thousands of surnames. Pick a letter and off you hunt. I used one recently, worked a treat.
If you are looking for names from other parts of the world (since the world is not just the UK and America), then baby name website have a great many suggestions.
Great resources for historical names that I’ve found:
13th century names
Dictionary of British Feminine names
What’s behind a name?
There are loads more out there; if you know any, post a comment with the link, thank you:)