Daily Archives: 9 April 2013

What’s in a Name?

by on

Names of characters are extraordinarily important to any author of fiction. You don’t just pick arbitrary names for people in your stories. Names must mean something. They have to reflect the persona of a character. Perhaps foreshadow a facet of their personality. Major characters always have to follow two naming convention caveats when it comes to my novels:
1. It must be a name I’ve never known anyone to actually have in my personal life.
2. It must sound like a legitimate name, even if it’s entirely makebelieve.

Therefore, I have characters like “Helle Tompkins” and “Shamus Devonson” in my books. I’ve never known a Shamus. I’ve never known a Helle.

Well, after I wrote the book, I met a Helle and married her at an Elvis Chapel in Vegas… But that’s a different story.

I never knew a Helle when I first wrote the book. I’ve never known anyone named “Allyson” either; so, Allyson is a major character in my first novel. You’ll never see a “Mike” or a “John” or a “Steve” in any of my tales. Minor characters, sure. But not a major one. Those names are too common and they evoke images of people I know. Characters should be unique. They deserve their own voice. As a result, their names must be special.

Most important of all, you’ll definitely never see a character named “Munluqptin Horsewrath VII” in my stories either. What is it with the tendency of science fiction and fantasy authors to give their characters stupid and outlandish names no one can possibly pronounce? Why is it always Druzovianta D’et from the planet Mtzjala Ghd on the Counsel Of The Twelve Hklurov? Can’t it just be… Mike from Jupiter?

“Yo, Frankie! Look! It’s Mike from Jupiter! How you fuckin’ doin’ Mike? Long time, no see.”

See? Mike from Jupiter is a standup guy! Mike from Jupiter, you can trust. He’ll take care of our hero or heroine. He’ll let the hero date his sister. Mike from Jupiter is a good guy.

Understand that names are vital, because the whole point of storytelling is to have the audience connect with, and care about, the characters. You don’t care about Druzovianta D’et, because his name instantly tells you, he’s an asshole! Kind of like when someone is named Tristan or Clayton, you already know he’s an asshole. No one named “Clayton” was ever a respectable human being. He’s a Brooks Brothers bastard in a BMW. And don’t get me started on that Tristan fucknut. Everyone named Tristan is a blond-haired, blue-eyed prick from Orange County who cheats on his girlfriend. Tristan is a cocksmokin’ douchenozzle, just like Druzovianta D’et.

Mike from Jupiter? He’s a good guy. He’ll let you borrow his spaceship to take your pet pefelfogwok to the veterinarian.

Personally, convoluted names will literally make me stop reading a story. As soon as Cumucho’Fzikj shows up on page two, I’m done. Fuck that author. Any author unable to discern a proper name for the people she is writing about is surely incapable of telling the story correctly. How can you feel a kinship with the characters when you can’t even say their names?

That’s not to say invented names are illegitimate. As I said at the start, makebelieve names are fine, so long as they sound like real names. For example, the main vampire queen in my duology, The Vampire Noctuaries, is named Camillia. Camillia is an entirely fabricated name. The name Camilla is used in the real world. Camillia is not. Yes, the name Camillia is a homage to the vampiress “Carmilla” from the eponymous 1872 novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Although her name is made up, Camillia at least reads like a legitimate name. You can sound it out. You can spell it. The name isn’t some crazy jumble of unpronounceable letters.

Names are so very important.

The Neverending Story was the book which inspired me to become a novelist, and in that story, giving the Childlike Empress a new name, Moon Child, was the whole method of saving her life!

The befitting name is essential. As with Moon Child, the proper name is the life or death of a character. As an author, all you have to do is listen, and the characters will tell you their names. Just write them down.

However, trust me when I say, even on the most outlandish of science fiction planets and fantasy worlds, no one is actually called Munluqptin Horsewrath VII. That’s just an author being a dickhead.

Next time you read a story with Refultxmog’Dnil from the Kingdom of Tzohg, check the author’s biography. I’ll bet you anything, the writer’s middle name is Clayton.