This awesome gentleman joined my blog back in its earliest days, back when I was almost completely clueless about blogging. (That's not to say that I'm significantly less clueless today, mind you.) But much of what I have learned, I learned by watching this awesome dude in action and from reading his posts.
Break space-dock and plot a course at warp nine for David's Cosmic Laire of Science Fiction and Fantasy the moment that alien delegation disembarks. It's a destination that almost rivals Risa! And if you see David with a horga'hn, be sure to snap a photo!
Aspiring Advice: What’s In A Name? Much!
I pulled into a local graveyard the other day. Not to visit anyone in particular, but to look around and read some headstones (who does that?). Many of these people lived in the late 1800’s, early Utah settlers mostly, but as I read the surnames of these folks, I couldn’t help but notice how similar they all were. Come to find out, many of these people were of Scandinavian heritage.
That’s when I started to think (dangerous, I know). These people shared something in common: a culture. They shared a common worldview that other cultures would define differently, express differently, and speak differently. Language, after all, is a complex combination of sounds that carry meaning, and when those sounds combine, they define who and what is around us.
One of my favorite things about writing is coming up with character names, often of the high fantasy nature or the altered/modern names for science fiction. The most common feedback I receive from my writing is how much readers enjoyed my names, both characters and places. I wasn’t sure why. It was all fun for me, but it wasn’t until I took Anthropology of Language in college when I learned the way I create and use names has a psychological association to them.
Combining sounds to identify a person can define who and what they are.
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Think of your name. Say it. Say it out loud (enough, Edward…)! Now enunciate each phoneme (letter) and syllable. What does it sound like? How does it make you feel? Calm? Empowered? Fun? Being called that name your whole life, does it have an affect on mood, decision making, and relationships? I’m under the persuasion that it plays a part, but it may not apply to everyone. In fiction, however, it certainly can, which may wholly define a personality by their name alone.
You know Shakespeare’s Othello? You know it’s a tragedy by the sound of his name.
Think of stories you know and pair the hero’s name with the villain’s. How common is it for heroes to have strong, easy-sounding names while the villains are rough and hard? Here’s my list: Wesley/Humperdinck. Luke/Vadar. Woody/Sid. Bilbo/Smaug. Marty/Biff.
Stark contrasts aren’t essential, but they are effective and often do the job.
Another thing to keep in mind is the impact a name has on the character’s culture. My biggest complaint with fantasy, sometimes, are the names. In an effort to be unique, they don’t blend with the environment (unheard-of names, narrative doesn’t match), made worse when they are outlandishly large and riddled with accent marks, making them near impossible to pronounce. That’s certainly worth thinking about. I think it best to watch for those and avoid if possible.
This is not the rule, just my thoughts on the matter. Names connect readers to characters. It is their first impression. The next time you create your next protagonist, look up what their name means. Does it sound like a good match? Does it conflict or compliment the world building?
What impression will it leave? How will it read on a headstone a hundred years later?
I’m David, and what’s in your name?
About Davis Powers King:
Hello! It's good to meet you. I'm an aspiring author of MG and YA Science Fiction and Fantasy with a soft spot for zombies and the paranormal. For now, I live and write in Utah with my stellar wife and rambunctious kids! What do you write?
David blogs at:
The Cosmic Laire of Science Fiction and Fantasy
And moderates for inkPageant
You can also find him on Twitter