The Importance of Names
Have you ever been writing and needed a name? And you couldn’t write any more until you’d thought of the perfect one? Rejecting and brainstorming ideas for minutes to … the next day.
Why is that? Why won’t any name do? Or why can’t you just put in a blank or an ‘X’ and call it go for now?
At least I can’t. I’ve tried. But until that needed name clicks, I really have a hard time writing. As if the name somehow defined the character. Which, actually, it does. Why else would some writers go back and change a character’s name when they discover a better one? Heck, I even have a character who changes her own name as a mark to leaving the past version of herself behind.
Names define who we are as people and, even more so, who are characters are.
In a novel, a name is often the first impression a reader has of a character. With only text, a reader cannot experience the character through any other means than by what we, the author, tells them. Does the character stumble into a story, saunter in with sword drawn, or sneak in like a thief? No matter what the first line of text mentioning the character is, the name and how we refer to her throughout the book is what will trigger a cascade in associated attributes for the reader.
So it has to be a good name. The perfect name.
Is it Elysium, the princess, or Dimitri, the plotter? What do the names Abrymium, Kortax, and Rhodea conjure for you? A scholar, a warrior, and a well experienced shop keeper? Can you tell me their gender?
All that, from a name…
As a fantasy writer, I spend a lot of time world building. But it took me a while to really stand back and fathom the impact names have on a character or even a town. Instinctively, I knew they had to be good names. But what defines good?
A well chosen name will:
- Hint at a character’s status (poor, wealthy, educated)
- Signify gender
- Fit the character’s trade (warrior, mage, scholar)
- Signify the character’s race (elf, troll, human, dragon)
- Touch on character’s attitude (shy, domineering, conniving)
- May even hint at good or evil
So yeah, no pressure choosing a character name! Because it gets even more complicated than that.
What if the character is lying? Could he be pretending to be something else? Or perhaps be the heir to the kingdom with a name to match, while being the worst possible choice as if a cosmic joke?
Well doesn’t that just muddy the naming waters?
I’ve come to love the psychology of writing. The impact of using, or not using, a single word and how that contributes to a reader’s perception of the story, character, and plot. I could write so many blog posts on this (and have!) but you know what works better? Video!
I’m building a webinar to delve into the importance of names because there is no better place to start. A reader’s perception of your character and world begins with a single name. So let’s pull that apart and look at it more in-depth and then figure out how to control that interaction and take it where you want to go.
I don’t have a signup yet as I’m still mucking about in Canada with nary a wifi hotspot in sight (though I will post the webinar here when it is recorded). But if you are interested in getting on the webinar, let me know in the comments below (and make sure you fill your email into the appropriate spot so I know how to get in contact with you). I’ll let you know when the webinar is scheduled or how to find the reply!
And speaking of comments what is your favorite character name and why? I’d love to hear!