So what’s in a name?
- If you work for the World Meteorological Organization you spend your days thinking of fitting names for tropical storms and hurricanes. Your choices must alternate between female and male, each year’s season kicking off with a name beginning with the letter A. And the infamous hurricanes names -Katrina, Mitch, and Tracy- are forever struck from the list, never to be used again. Typhoons are more complicated with names based on people, animals, and plants, even astrological and mythological figures.
- If you work as a dispatcher at a fire resource center you choices of names for fires can be a landmark, street, lake, or mountain so you better know your geography. Landmark names are important as they help fire fighter crews locate the blaze.
- If you write creative fiction you spend your days searching for just the right name for a fictional character. Thought of a good name? Check the root meaning to be certain it doesn’t have embarrassing consequences i.e. Caleb means “faithful dog.” Is that your intent? And if your story falls in the 1930’s don’t stigmatize your heroine with a handle such as Brittany or Courtney. Alliteration can be fun if it fits. Think of Bilbo Baggins, Ratso Rizzo, and Severus Snape. It can be symbolic: John Singer is a deaf mute who acts as a prophet in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter; Harry Angstrom of Updike’s Rabbit books – the angstrom being a very tiny unit of measure – is all about a man who thinks his life it way too small. Connotative names such as Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series makes the reader think of a dragon filled with malice.
Some authors start with simple letter and number tags and wait for their characters to show up in a dream and tell the creator their names. They simply say “Tell me: What is your name?” A simple enough solution but not especially useful if your WIP is an epic with hundreds of characters. My approach is to get to know my characters, the setting, and the era and then patiently wait for inspiration. And there’s always the phone book (if you can find one in the recycle bin at work) or the internet or the original web – the local library reference department. Happy hunting.