Lucius’ Wiley: Naming Characters

It was Juliet Capulet (via our friend [enemy to some] Billy Shakespeare) who first asked: “What is in a name?” Well, the answer is nothing.

And everything.

If you’re writing, then you need to make sure that the name is one that you can live with, because you’ll be spending Heaven knows how many hours working with that character and that name. If you just choose randomly that you don’t care for, you might grow to hate the name and, by association, the character. If you’re working with a protagonist that is supposed to be likable in some way, then you are failing as your personal feelings may find their way into your writing.

Other names just don’t fit the character. For example, if the character is larger than life, a lady’s man, witty, a real man’s man and an intergalactic hero, responsible for saving humanity from unspeakable evil and that man’s name is… Bob. Just Bob.

No, Bob is your coworker. It’s probably why one of the most badass characters in film, Snake Plissken, has only one mentioning of his real name in two films. It’s because his first name is Bob. Probably also why he goes by Snake.

If you hadn’t noticed, I put a lot of thought into naming my characters and it shows. I wrote a few hundred word short last September and two of the three comments mentioned how they liked the names I gave the characters.

I tend to choose names that apply, in some way, to the characters, and who I want those characters to be. Sometimes it is literal, other times it is ironic. But it is always something that I like and think works well for the characters. Take, for example, the names of the characters from the aforementioned story (I should also take this time to note that I’m using that 400 word story as an opening for a longer yarn).

The main character is Anshel. It is a Yiddish diminutive for Asher, meaning “happy” or “blessed” in Hebrew. For a man who, at the start, is very happy and feels blessed it fits rather well. It is also ironic as he spends a great deal of time feeling quite the opposite.

His best friend is Katsuo, which is a Japanese name meaning “victory” and “hero, manly.” I specifically searched for a Japanese name, as I wanted him to use Japanese weaponry, and show diversity amongst the characters in the two cities where the action takes place.

Anshel’s right hand is Eulalia, a Spanish/Ancient Greek/Italian/English (I forget where I was looking when I found the name) that means to “talk well.” Later in the story, she needs to use her ability to “speak well” to convince Anshel to act. It was also just a name I kind of liked and that worked for the character. That was also one of the hardest names to find for that story.

If you are curious, I use Behind the Name to search for names, usually by country/region, and to find the meanings.

However, I don’t use that site, alone. I also use names that I just like from other sources, as well.

The final character in that story was a cat named Alfador. That came from one of my favorite video games of all time: Chrono Trigger. One part of the game had a character (Janus) who had a cat named, you guessed it, Alfador. Because it is one of my favorite games (and a cool name) I took it and used it for myself.

I’ve also named at least two characters “Plissken” after our good friend, Snake, as well.

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