Dear Sam (Somebody. who Ain’t. Me),
If you’ve been paying attention to my previous posts, it should come as no surprise that I tend to be more interested in authors behind the works that have an impact on me more-so (one could argue) than I am about studying their actual writing. Perhaps I seek to relate to the writers I one day hope to call my peers; I want to see what inspired them, learn how they grew up, rather than just perceiving them as disembodied voices. Such can be applied to A Song of Ice and Fire and the man behind this beautifully diverse world. While doing some background research into George R. R. Martin’s life and influences, I came across something. George once told a fan how he thinks up the names of his characters:
“There’s an old writing rule that says ‘Don’t have two characters names start with the same letter,’ but I knew at the beginning that I was going to have more than 26 characters, so I was in trouble there. Ultimately, it comes down to what sounds right. And I struggle with that, finding the right name for a character. If I can’t find the right name, I don’t know who the character is, and I can’t proceed.” – George R. R. Martin: London, 2014
When George said he can’t proceed without knowing a character’s name, I immediately was relieved. I feel the exact. same. way. I am obsessed with researching names for characters, places, even the chapters and stories themselves. I think creating a name that has meaning behind it is vital. Whether the name has inspiration from mythology or its literal definition/synonym, it adds another dimension to the work when the writer selects names that reflect the nature of what they represent.
This interest in origin of names is not excluded to just writing my fictional worlds. In fact, it stems from my fascination with names in real-life. If I come across someone with a name that strikes my curiosity, I guess the roots of where that name originated. Names can say a lot. I know a number of people who go by their middle name or nickname solely. Why would they do that? What about their first or middle name do they like better than the other?
Unfortunately, not many are that aware of their name’s origins, which is fine. The few who do have a knowledge get to enjoy a conversation about their family history, travel, and a little of their personality.
Names have a powerful influence on people in reality and fiction. It could either show that character with strength or grace, philanthropy or malice. During the Holocaust, the Nazis gave their prisoners a number tattooed on their arm like they were cattle. Taking away someone’s name erases a part of what makes them unique. It’s why I have a whole paragraph in the About Me section of this blog just to explain why I call this site The Pen-Dragon.
Some of the time I select names for characters and come to learn after assigning them that their name is appropriate for who that character is. For example, I came up with the name of Claire in my novel, codenamed: Project Beacon, before getting to develop much of her character. To my delight, I came to find that claire comes from the Latin clarus meaning “clear or bright.” This meaning could not have fit her character better, and I didn’t even plan it! Having done the research, I can continue with the assurance that her name truly defines her motivations and characteristics. Had this name not been so ideally matched, I probably would have gone with another.
So when you next name something, consider doing a little more homework into Latin roots, prefixes and suffixes of English or other languages, or have a look at synonyms of a word that defines your character’s wants or personality. Does your character like money? What about Green(e) as a last name? Is a character called Richard a really good guy? Nickname him Dick as a bit of ironic humor. Once down this train of thought, it gets easier to come up with creative possibilities. You might find it easier to construct a narrative around these players than you did before once you find the power behind a name.