Character Creation: Part 1 Names

So this week I have begun working on my next novel-writing project. (I am also working on Faminelands #3 in the comics arena.) I have finished my outline and started the naming.

What is in a name? A good character names has meaning. A good name might denote rank and gender. In a pluralistic society, it defines the character in terms of nationality.

Now call me old-fashioned, but since I speak (American) English as my primary language–as do most of my readers–it is important to me to have names for my characters that the reader can easily say. Even in Faminelands where I might have gone into crazy elvish names, my protagonists are referred by their given nicknames: Lark (Meadowlark) and Orin (Orodherthin).

For my first novel, Other Systems the main character is Abigail even though it is set in 1000 years in the future. Why?

First off it’s easy to say.

Secondly it has a long history. Abigail has been around for millinea. From the Bible, Abigail is Nabal’s wife and becomes the third wife of King David. So it stands to reason, the name will be around in another 1000 years. It has fallen in and out of fashion of course and right now is on an upswing.

Thirdly, it fits the character. Abigail is a female born in Seattle which is no longer part of the United States but a city-state. I knew she was going to use her intelligence as her primary means of getting through life. She starts the novel at 17. She is a stargazer.

So how did I pick the name? At first I looked at names with the meaning of intelligence, “Akilah, Lassie, Monisha, and Parmena” came up. Akilah: I am not sure how to say, but phonetically it reads A Killa. Parmena sounds too close to Parmesan cheese, Lassie is the name of a dog, so out of my first list “Monisha” was the only name, but it didn’t fit with how I pictured the girl.

The girl’s father is Caucasian with ancestors from Scotland and her mother is Asian with ancestors from China. We also know that her father believes in a monotheism deity while her mother and maternal grandmother believe in an animal zodiac and ancestor worship. She is the first born out of five and well-loved by both her parents especially her father. She is a bit of a daddy’s girl.  According to Thinkbabynames.com, the meaning of Abigail is “Father’s joy” or “the Father is rejoicing.”  That’s how I picked the given name.

Then I chose the surnames. I wanted to use both maternal and paternal surnames in the naming structure. I decided that during this time period there was two naming systems. Most people who lived in communes have three names: a given name, a paternal family name and a maternal family name.

Once again I looked up specific nationality’s surnames and chose ones that would be easy to say. I decided on a Scottish name “Boyd” and a Chinese name “Lei.”  Thus this character became: Abigail Boyd Lei.

Now how does this character, her family and contemporaries refer to her? Pretty much everyone uses the nicknames: Abby or Ab.

How does her boss on Earth refer to her? Miss Boyd Lei. She refers to him by his surname as well.

Finally now that I have a lead character’s name generally I will not name another character with the same first initial. However, the second two most important characters in the novel are Harden and Helen. I used the double H’s purposefully. Harden’s name was chosen first and then his sister.

So anyway that’s how I pick my names, how does everyone else do it?

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mariann Krizsan on May 6, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    How funny. I was just thinking a lot about naming. I follow the same conventions. I just wrote a short story where I made the naming part of the plot (the dominant character sort of christens the protagonist.) Anyway the process is relatively simple in an Earth-like culture.

    I find I have a lot of trouble naming when I write non-humans in a non-Earth-styled culture. I usually start with human names from a distinct culture that has the closest feel to the culture I’m trying to create with the non-humans. Then I morph the name till it is barely recognizable, except by me. I end up respelling or renaming too much because I’m never being really happy with my non-human names. Perhaps not a good system, but at the end of the day your characters need handles. I’m never afraid to rename characters, Find – replace all is your best friend here.

    Reply

    • I started thinking about naming when going over my next novel and realized I had a Mr. Johnson, a John, a Jon, 2 Seans, a Jonathan.

      I also have used Find – replace quite a bit!

      Thanks for commenting!

      Reply

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